Today I spent the afternoon attending a couple of lectures on the northern campus. The campus is in a part of town I really like, one of the oldest suburbs, with a lot of interesting late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture, and these days a fairly Bohemian atmosphere, lots of cute little galleries and and boutiques and cafés and junk shops.
The first lecture wasn't directly about, but pertained to, the stuff I did in my final year undergraduate project, so that was a pleasant bout of nostalgia. Then I had an awkward gap before the second lecture, so I had the chance to wander in that fun part of town. It was a glorious day, cool but beautifully sunny, and it was really refreshing just to be outdoors in daylight. I got my money back from a dodgy CD shop that had sold me the wrong CD, by means of arguing in Swedish. And then I dropped into a funny little shop somewhere between a fashion boutique and a charity shop, run by a woman who looked and acted a lot like Mrs Pepperpot. I achieved my objective of finding a handbag that is both practical (big enough to carry books and assorted junk around, and with lots of pleasing secret and zippable pockets, and reasonably tough), and attractive (snazzy black leather, which I feel less guilty about because it was second hand anyway). There wasn't a price on it, so Mrs Pepperpot pulled an extremely reasonable number out of the air, and I discovered a new means of haggling in the form of being a bit confused on the difference between twenty and seventy, meaning that it ended up even more reasonable.
The second lecture was by Tony Pawson, who is someone who thinks about cell biology in very much the same way I do. He is not the most awesome speaker in the world, rather donnish, and he pitched his talk at a slightly awkward level. The Nobel forum lectures are supposed to be of fairly general interest, but one should assume that the audience have at least some knowledge of molecular biology! But anyway, he spoke interestingly about how biology generates complexity from fairly simple starting blocks, using a modular and combinatorial approach. One of his examples involved a generalized signalling system which can be abstracted as a writer, an eraser, and a reader, and once you have those three combined, there is a lot of potential for diversity because the reader module can be attached to just about any protein. He pinpointed the event in the evolutionary tree where the ancestor of multicelluar organisms acquired a complete read-write-erase system and all of a sudden (on an evolutionary timescale at least!) there were several dozen variants of the system involved in just about every cellular process. So I asked him, how far is what you're talking about analogous to a universal Turing machine? And he replied that he wasn't qualified to answer the question as he didn't have a very clear idea what a universal Turing machine was. Oh well.
The lecture finished at 4:30, which is too late for it to be realistic to return to my lab in the southern campus, but earlier than I usually get out of work. So I walked home as the sun was setting, which suited the pretty suburb very well. And I walked past the carpark shaped like a giant teacup, and various pretty buildings reflecting the golden sky, and across the pretty estuary, to the station. There I saw a girl who looked as if she'd walked out of an audition for The little princess, and I was covertly looking at her to figure out if she was in costume or if this was some new and esoteric form of goth (I supsect the former), when she gave me the most beatific smile.
Days like this make me think I should carry a camera around, but you get verbal descriptions.