Hard News by Russell Brown


Deep Dream: Looking at clouds

Computerised image recognition is on the one hand a technology so advanced as to be  "indistinguishable from magic" and on the other so far short of what our human brains do from infancy as to be almost banal.

Either way, it's a vital tool for Google, which has developed neural networks – sets of algorithims – that can be trained on a corpus of existing images to recognise what's in a picture on the internet. Thing is, it's impossible to ever look at Google image recognition in quite the same way since two of the company's engineers published a post called Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks on the Google Research Blog.

The post basically explains what they've designed their software to do:

We train an artificial neural network by showing it millions of training examples and gradually adjusting the network parameters until it gives the classifications we want. The network typically consists of 10-30 stacked layers of artificial neurons. Each image is fed into the input layer, which then talks to the next layer, until eventually the “output” layer is reached. The network’s “answer” comes from this final output layer.

One of the challenges of neural networks is understanding what exactly goes on at each layer. We know that after training, each layer progressively extracts higher and higher-level features of the image, until the final layer essentially makes a decision on what the image shows. For example, the first layer maybe looks for edges or corners. Intermediate layers interpret the basic features to look for overall shapes or components, like a door or a leaf. The final few layers assemble those into complete interpretations—these neurons activate in response to very complex things such as entire buildings or trees. 

But their neural network also does things they didn't quite expect:

So here’s one surprise: neural networks that were trained to discriminate between different kinds of images have quite a bit of the information needed to generate images too ... If we choose higher-level layers, which identify more sophisticated features in images, complex features or even whole objects tend to emerge. Again, we just start with an existing image and give it to our neural net. We ask the network: “Whatever you see there, I want more of it!” This creates a feedback loop: if a cloud looks a little bit like a bird, the network will make it look more like a bird. This in turn will make the network recognize the bird even more strongly on the next pass and so forth, until a highly detailed bird appears, seemingly out of nowhere.

Sounds cool, huh? Google thought it was so cool that it released the code as Deep Dream, in a format that would allow anyone with the requisite software skills to to run it themselves. If you've seen any Deep Dream images, you may have thought "that computer is on drugs". There's a reason for that:

If Deep Dream looks psychedelic, it's because the computer is undergoing something that humans experience during hallucinations, in which our brains are free to follow the impulse of any recognizable imagery and exaggerate it in a self-reinforcing loop. Think of a psychedelic experience, where "you are free to explore all the sorts of internal high-level hypotheses or predictions about what might have caused sensory input," Karl Friston, professor neuroscience at University College London, told Motherboard.

Deep Dream sometimes appears to follow particular rules; these aren't quite random, but rather a result of the source material. Dogs appear so often likely because there were a preponderance of dogs in the initial batch of imagery, and thus the program is quick to recognize a "dog." This reinforces Deep Dream as not just a piece of technology but as a discrete visual style, the same as Impressionism, Surrealism, or the geometric abstraction of Piet Mondrian. Just as Mondrian's work was printed on pants or the iconic Solo Jazz Cup pattern reproduced on T-shirts, Deep Dream imagery will eventually enter into the vernacular. It will no longer be strange, but instantly recognizable.

You may have wondered what Deep Dream would make of the images of what must be considered another part of the vernacular: pornography. Vice's Motherboard channel was quick to answer that question (warning: NSFW, obviously) and, to save you a click, it's every bit as weird as you might have thought.

Most people have contented themselves with Deep Dreaming pictures of pets, people and places. And the results are trippy. They really do look like what you might fancy you see on hallucinogenic drugs. I've posted below some of the images I ran through the Deep Dream interface at Psychic VR Lab (there's another one here).

You're warmly invited to post your own Deep Dream images in the discussion for this post (just click "Choose file" under the commenting window – you can save each one then edit your comment and add another two images per comment if you like). Do bear in mind that the Deep Dream process isn't instant – there's a queue at Psychic VR Lab and it will take a day or two to process, so you'll need to bookmark each confirmation page and come back to it to see if your image is done.


Political palatability and charter schools

Kirsty Johnston's story in the Herald today presents a range of claims about the management of West Auckland school Middle School West, including that it appeases students with junk food on a weekly basis, which, acording to one staff member's letter to the Education Review Office, "highlights a lack of leadership management and lack of effective teaching practices."

More seriously, the same staff member claimed bullying and drug use were rife and that there had been a suicide attempt by a student – the school's management denies these things happened – and cited a draft ERO report which raised further concern about the physical and cultural safety of children at the school.

Further, Johnston cites documents which appear to show the school's management deliberately misled the Ministry of Education about its relationship with another school with which it shares a site.

It's the kind of thing you'd think would be a sitter for the right-wing blogs, but you won't be reading any damning denunciations of the system in those places –  because Middle School West Auckland is a charter school. And because they've invested far too much time and energy cheerleading for the people who run it.

In the Sunday Star Times in February, Simon Day reported the problems suffered by an autistic boy and his family at Mt Hobson Middle School, the private school run by Villa Education Trust, which also runs Middle School West Auckland and South Auckland Middle School as charter schools.

It was a sad and troubling story, which raised questions not only about thousands of dollars of teacher aide funding which was not used for the purpose for which is was provided, but about the school's grasp on basic special education practice.

On the same day, Whale Oil ran an "open response" from Villa Education Trust spokesman Alwyn Poole to what it described as a "hit job" by the Star Times. Poole's open letter is a meandering affair in which he trumpets the school's methods,  flatly refuses to address the parents' specific claims and and warns Day "you should be very ethically wary of exploiting a vulnerable child – even when the parents are complicit."

Poole also says this:

Sometimes people read the prospectus, come to the interview, sign all the contracts and then ask us to change or compromise our methodology. That won’t happen. Twenty plus years or research into it – and practice of it – means I will always back it.

Poole has also been given space on Kiwiblog to expound at length on his theories, including in a guest post headed Educational Aspiration in Crisis:

Solutions have to be found. There are a lot of tyre-kickers in education in NZ. People who criticise outcomes, criticise attempts at solutions, attack all manner of people who are doing the job but do nothing to assist. The kids who are missing out don’t need theoreticians – they need on the ground solutions. The vast majority of those solutions involve people and not flash buildings. People who understand the new learning paradigm understand that all children, given quality teaching/coaching, repetition/practice and opportunity can develop remarkable skills and knowledge sets. These young people need to be surrounded by adults who understand aspiration and change.

And this rallying cry for the charter school concept:

As I think back to the readings of systemic failure thrust upon me in 1988 through to misguided people today stating that schools can achieve nothing because of socioeconomic disparity – I see a light in the tunnel that is not just a train coming the other way. There is growing hope of a genuine means for Partnership Schooling to be a part of systemic change and a quiet revolution in the provision for children who are otherwise not doing well. Like all changes and challenges it will not be smooth at every stage or with every establishment – but for the children and families that need innovation and choice the necessity to persevere and enhance the model is clear.

For those who doubt and have genuine interest in the well being of the young people of New Zealand our doors are very open and we are willing to collaborate and share our experiences. For those that criticize from a distance – have some courage and come and see.

It's not only the usual suspects in the blogosphere. This year NBR afforded Poole yet another unchallenged opportunity to expound at length on his ideas and make claims for his schools.

It's abundantly clear that Poole believes in what he's doing, but whether we ought to is another matter. The trust's website offers almost nothing in the way of background to or evidence for its practices and Poole's default response to what are now very substantial and troubling questions seems to be to claim he's misunderstood.

I think it's time for Poole's ideological enablers to stop providing space for his long, muddled manifestos and acknowledge that mere political palability is not an excuse for obscure, arbitrary and possibly damaging educational practices.


Auckland: The songs of the city

It was music that brought me to Auckland more than 30 years ago and music that, in large part, has helped define what being an Aucklander is for me. So I'm understandably delighted to be chairing the first event of the 2015 LATE at the Museum season, Songs of the City, on Tuesday August 11.

The whole season ties in with Auckland Museum's Taku Tāmaki: Auckland Stories exhibition. And in this one we've chosen people who have been part of – and helped tell – Auckland stories.

Simon Grigg will be familiar to many of you. He's been at the centre of Auckland’s musical history since, inspired by a childhood meeting with legendary Auckland promoter and manager Phil Warren, he assembled and managed the city’s first punk rock group, the Suburban Reptiles, in 1977. He went on to form the city’s first indie record label, Propeller, and ran its most famous nightclub, The Box.

And then he signed Pauly Fuemana to his Huh! record label and released the global hit ‘How Bizarre’  – a story told in his new book How Bizarre: Pauly Fuemana and the song that stormed the world. The book is published by Awa Press on August 21 and this will be the first time he talks about it length. From the author’s note:

How Bizarre is also a little more than that, it’s the story of a coming together of the cultures in Auckland – it's the time when the first generation of young Polynesians born in New Zealand from that great immigration of the1960s and 1970s came to town and changed our city forever. 'How Bizarre', the song, is a child of that uniquely Auckland phenomenon.

Simon is now the creative director of the New Zealand music legacy website Audioculture, which will be a key partner in the event, especially in providing images of the city and its music.

With her co-creator James Griffin, Rachel Lang incorporated music into the West Auckland stories of Outrageous Fortune from the very start. In this year's prequel Westside, music took an even more important role The writers took us to Hello Sailor’s infamous Ponsonby pad "Mandrax Mansion”, saw a young Dave McArtney (played by Dave’s son) working out the chords to ‘Gutter Black’, visited Auckland’s first punk rock club Zwines, and experienced a moving resolution to the strains of Split Enz’s classic ’Stuff and Nonsense’. The creators have underlined the importance of the songs by publishing the soundtrack for each episode. But the importance of music to Rachel’s stories goes back much further – through the songs of Shortland Street and 1996’s City Life, which was threaded through with local pop music and scenes from Auckland’s musical nightlife. She’s a fan.

Philip "DJ Sir Vere" Bell has been a DJ since he stepped up to the turntables at the age of 14 when his dad needed a toilet break – and hip hop has been his musical life since he saw Beat Street at The Civic at the age of 17. He ran Auckland’s first 12-hour dance party, Planet Rock, in 1988, and founded bFM’s long-running Tru school Hip Hop Show, the huge Major Flavors hip hop compilation franchise and the Beat Merchants store, the centre of Auckland’s hip hop scene. He’s been the editor of Rip It Up magazine and programme director at Mai FM – th4 station that found an Auckland audience the rest had ignored – and has worked with everyone from Che Fu to Savage. He'll be both on the panel and playing a special DJ set after the talk.

Dave Dobbyn was born in the working-class Auckland suburb of Glen Innes and got his musical education from the sounds around him: the Irish songs in the home, the singing in the church over the road and the tunes on the radio. He joined a band and he grew up to write the songs of the city and playing the artist as critic in works like 'Madeleine Avenue'. For more than 20 years, he has lived in Grey Lynn, which, according to Apra's figures, is still the national capital of songwriting. Which makes dave honorary president or something. Dave will be both talking and singing on the night.

Emma Paki has seen both sides of the city. She has won awards, had gold records and lived on the streets. And through it all she has created her waiata. After years living in Northland, she's now back in Auckland, and it will be her singular voice that opens this special night.

 I think this is going to be a lot of fun and I'd be very happy if the house was full of Public Address whanau. You can book here.


Friday Music: Silver and Gold

This year's Apra Silver Scroll Awards mark the fiftieth anniversary of New Zealand's most significant songwriting prize. So it's appropriate that the long list of songs released yesterday to be voted on by Apra members might actually be the best ever.

In saying so, I'm doubtless influenced by the fact that I have raved here about a number of the songs on the list, including songs like this sparkling one-off collaboration that came and went nine months ago:

This dreamy slab of shoegaze with its firecracker lead break:

Anthonie Tonnon's eloquent, indignant indictment of Nick Smith MP:

This twinkling meditation on polyamory:

This musical musing on the days of our lives (which has the additional virtue of having provoked Mike Hosking in an Alan Partridge moment):

And this remarkable soundtrack banger by that young woman from Devonport:

I'm not saying these are the favourites – that's not up to me – but I'm pleased to see them recognised, along with all the others.

One quirk this year is that two songwriters – Sean Donnelly (SJD) and Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra) – have two songs on the longlist and one, Joel Little, has his name on three. That's all good for Joel, with three different acts, but I hope having double success doesn't split the vote for for the other two.


The other list pubished yesterday by Apra comprises the five finalists for the Lost Scroll – the 1981 Silver Scroll Awards that, for reasons no one is quite clear on, never happened – and it's really quite remarkable:

'Counting The Beat', The Swingers

'No Depression In New Zealand', Blam Blam Blam

'One Step Ahead', Split Enz

'See Me Go', The Screaming Meemees

'Tally Ho', The Clean

Let's be honest: two or three of those songs very probably would not have reached the radar of Apra judges and members at the time, but with the clarity of history it's clear that our year of social unrest was also a landmark year in popular music.


Richard Langston reminded me yesterday that in 1981, we were both junior reporters at the Christchurch Star (I was 19 and in my first year of journalism) and on the day that Flying Nun Records released 'Tally Ho' we went out at lunchtime and bought our copies direct from Roger Shepherd at The Record Factory, on Colombo Street, just south of Cathedral Square.

We were shooting the breeze under a Facebook post by The Clean's David Kilgour, who had decided after 'Tally Ho!' was named to tell the tale of its conception, "just so I dont have to repeat this story over and over again". Here's a lightly-edited version of his account:

"Must've been early 1980. Orientation at Otago Uni had just finished and a party was held for all the workers . The Clean were hired to play at the party, along with The Chills. (Possibly others? Sneaky Feelings perhaps.)

"No one turns up, maybe 15 people, half of them are musicians/friends . The afternoon finishes up with Martin [Phillipps] jamming with us. Robert starts playing the 'Tally Ho' riff and we jam on that for a while, all very excited by the RIFF. You gotta remember Hamish and I were mad about this kind've shit, from '96 Tears' to 'Mendocino', etc ...

"Until we recorded the track, I had been playing around with words and melody live, scat singing, never really completing the lyric till the morning of recording the track. We had been in Auckland for about a month living with the Androidss and couch surfing here and there. Roger Shepherd had tracked us down at the Androidss pad and offered to pay for us to record a 45 in Christchurch on our return.

"The last weekend in Auckland we played at the Reverb Room. On the Friday night after playing I dropped a tab of DMA – which is basically and very strong psychedelic speed, horrid stuff, just horrid – taken in the hope it would be the real thing, ala LSD. I had a terrible time, tripping for almost two days and yeah, I managed to pull off the last gig on the Saturday night. It took me a long time to sort myself out mentally after this experience, weeks .... maybe I never recovered! Ha!

"So we arrive in Christchurch a few days later. At breakfast on the day of recording I started writing out 'final' lyrics on a tissue with the help of Martin. I kept that scrawl for many years, but alas it's now gone. So yeah, the lyrics are of post-acid mental breakdown confusion , yearning to connect!

"When we got the test pressing we were disappointed with the sound of it and figured we probably could've made a better job on our two-track Revox. We became even more determined to record ourselves. The recording session took about half a day. Arnold [van Bussell] from Nightshift studios engineered, and considering it was a meeting of chalk and cheese we managed to mangle a recording out of it.

"I even went to the mastering of the disk in Welington to make sure they didn't ruin what was already kind've ruined. God knows what I was thinking – I  knew I couldn't make it any better with my limited tech knowledge, but was probably freaked out they would make it sound worse, somehow. But of course now it shouldn't sound any other way. Pure garage right? And then it made the top 20! Were we shocked and delighted? Yeah!"


Just a reminder about ALT+CTRL+DANCE on K Road tomorrow night – 27 live bands and DJs across four different venues for only $20. I'll be playing mostly old-school house music at the Wine Cellar from 11pm to 12.30am, before Harry the Bastard takes over.


This downloadable Loop Select Mixtape, featuring local acts ranging from Benny Tones and Rodi Kirk to French for Rabbits, is well worth your attention.

Keegan Fepuleai, the promoter behind ALT+CTRL+DANCE, is about to launch a new record label, Age Sex Location. He dropped the first taste of it this week, with this downloadable track from German producer Ray Kandinski:

And, finally, the excellent Cousin Cole has mashed up The Weeknd's monster 'I Can't Feel My Face' with Tribe Called Quest's 'Can I Kick It?' and made a whole new vibe. Click the Buy button for a free DL:


Friday Music: A night out dancing

If you've been looking for a night out dancing, Keegan Fepuleai has a big one for you on Saturday week. ALT + CTRL + DANCE is a party across multiple K Road venues (Whammy, the Wine Cellar, Neck of the Woods and The Station), featuring live bands incuding Nathan Haines and Rackets and a DJ lineup including Basement Tapes and, er, me.

Specifically, my fellow old dude (but vastly more famous in dance music circles) Harry the Bastard and I will be holding down an old-school house music room under the Housequake! banner at Whammy.

All this for only $20.

The Facebook event page is here. More details to come in the next week.


People liked the Great Australian Albums doco on The Saints' (I'm) Stranded last week – so here's another from the series: The Go-Betweens' 16 Lovers Lane:

It was made after the untimely death of Grant Maclennan, so he's represented only in archive interviews, but all the others give their accounts in what turns out to be another tale of how weird and sometimes joyous it can be being in a band.

I was interested to see how Lindy Morrison, the band's immensely cool and characterful drummer, was holding up – and the answer is, pretty well. I have fond memories of meeting the Go-Betweens on their first visit to New Zealand (we went to Alfies after their show because back then only the gays knew how to run a nightclub).


A little Apple Music update. People are asking whether it's safe or prudent to to update to iOS 8.4 on mobile and/or iTunes 12.2 on the desktop in order to try out Apple Music.

Yes. Yes, it is.

With some caveats, which may or may not apply to you. I have continuing issues which seem to be related to having a large existing iTunes library (11,000 tracks) and/or being a user of the iTunes Match service. I don't know and Apple's not saying anything helpful.

The iOS 8.4 upgrade is safe and painless. You'll be able to use Apple Music for the three month trial as soon as you have it. But you can't save or playlist anything unless you have iCloud Music Library turned on. This seems safe – or, more to the point, eminently reversible (in Settings > Music).

There's a bit more peril on the desktop. Enabling iCloud Music Library in iTunes 12.2 means that your library is scanned and (without asking) any tracks Apple Music doesn't have being uploaded – the idea being that then you can have all your stuff available on all your devices. But for me, it made a mess of my playlists – duplicating and even triplicating some of them. It still doesn't work consistently.

But because I enabled iCloud Music Library on my desktop, I can't switch on iCloud Music Library on my phone without getting my whole desktop library on it, which I don't want. And when I tried to make it more manageable this week, deleting a lot of old iTunes playlists and filing others in folders and then leaving it iCloud to re-scan my library and upload gigabytes of unmatched tracks overnight ... I woke up to find that it was reverted all my changes and I was back with the old mess. I don't know what to do about this.

Some people have had worse experiences, with metadata and album art mixed up and (for iTunes Match users) tracks they've ripped themselves being lumbered with Apple Music DRM.

On the other hand, my son was already hooked up with family sharing and I got a family Apple Music account and everything has worked seamlessly for him on his iMac and his iPhone. Bizarrely, he has UI elements (the ability to save a song to a new playlist!) I'm not even seeing. This may well be your experience too.

Meanwhile, I'm still finding odd bugs – turning on the Beats1 radio station instatly disables AirPlay in iTunes, to the point of making the AirPlay icon disappear from the menu bar, although AirPlay can still be anbled at system level. (If you have been using Home Sharing to access your desktop library from other devices in the home, that's gone for everyone – except via Apple TV.) Fuck knows, basically.

Apart from the Home Sharing issue there's no risk in just using it all to play music for at least the duration of the three-month free trial. And you may well want to do that, because the curated elements of Apple Music are pretty great and have introduced me to a lot of new music. I've been enjoying Beats1 radio a lot – not least catching Elton John's Rocket Hour show this week. He's not a bad DJ at all.

Meanwhile, if you do have any issues, these might be useful:

Apple Music Problems: How To Fix Issues With Syncing, Playlists, iCloud Library, Offline Listening Not Working And More

Okay, here's the deal with Apple Music, iCloud Music Library, and DRM



A quiet little tune from Lontalius titoed on Soundcloud while you were sleeping last night:

And a not-at-all-quiet new work from Tourettes, assisted by Rodi "Scratch 22" Kirk, Tom Anderson, Kate Elliot and Matthew Crawley. Poetry banger.


And finally, I know I might have had some harsh words for the EDM music genre at times – but never let it be said I don't know a good drop when I hear one ...