Today was an eventful day.
The first trip was to some talks at the University of Cambridge's brilliant Science Week: this is the series of events that the University puts on every years in March for the general public of Cambridge, in order that their general knowledge of how things work may be improved. It really is a wonderful act of charity, and the events are truly fabulous -- though a few too many are aimed at 8 year olds, and I would really prefer some more technical material.
That said, I attended a fascinating talk on machine learning and Artificial Intelligence given by Chris Bishop of Microsoft Research Cambridge, including a demonstration of Dasher -- a program of which I get the impression that programmers worldwide think it's rather neat, as it seems to have rapidly made its way into every GNU/Linux distribution, everywhere -- and a webcam backed by software that enabled it to (almost) correctly identify mugs, model cars and model phones of any shape, size or colour when placed before it.
The next talk was an enlightening romp entitled "Climbing the Tree of Physics", where a triplet of entertaining comedian-Physicists attempt to explain how Physics links various ideas together, all the while playing off each other's various fields (one was a cosmologist, one a particle physicist, and one a biophysicist, and the lack of explanation of various phenomena thereof (e.g. gravity in the standard model of particle physics).
A few other places I dropped into included the Department of Chemistry, where ice-cream was made with liquid nitrogen, polystyrene cups were dissolved dramatically in acetone, and dirty tuppences were cleaned with (dilute!) sulphuric acid.
After this, a rush was in order, to find some practice time at the church, as several hymns had to be learned before Sunday morning. Hymn playing is a curious art, especially for a devout atheist as I am. Hymns originally seem to be each a tricky piece to be learned, several per service, and with a full pedal part for the feet to boot -- but after a couple of years, they seem as easy to sight-read as anything. But there is still plenty of technique involved with breathing spaces, keeping the congregation in time, and sustaining the correct notes between chords.
Straight from church, I cycled over to King's College, to hear two epic pieces of music by Schumann, in their Foundation Concert (having been founded, as all good schoolchildren know, in 1441). Schumann, you may remember, is the one who went mad, and this concert was composed of his well-known Piano Concert, followed by Part III of his entirely obscure Scenes from Faust (often referred to as simply Faust). Each piece is a lavish undertaking with unbelievably rich harmonies -- it is simply unfortunate that the piano sounds like a jangling, dancing skeleton in this chapel.
Goethe's incomprehensible German philosophical ramblings are perfectly complemented by Schumann's bizarre, yet sublime, harmonies, that contemporary critics outright rejected as unacceptably "ugly" -- however, to modern ears they are overwhelming in their complexity and beauty.