display | more...
... for the Navy. That was fun, but not fun enough.

That is the problem. It's never fun enough, no matter what you do.

In math they taught you calculus, but skipped the details. Boy, that took years to learn. In physics you learned about the kinetic theory of gases, but not about atoms. So you take physics of atoms, but you need to learn quantum mechanics. So you learn QM but you have to learn about relativistic quantum mechanics to really learn how inner electrons work. But they don't really work that way, so you learn about QED in your spare time. Then you learn that the proton isn't indivisible. Neither is the neutron. All the pions and kaons and assorted mesons are composite particles. So you start down the QCD rabbithole.

In engineering you learn about logic gates and boolean logic. But you wonder how logic gates work inside, and you learn transistor design. Then you put them all together to make microprocessors. But you really want to know about solid state physics, so you can understand FETs and BJTs and MOS and DRAM. You manage to avoid the whole computer architecture trap. But still you wonder... about electromagnetics. And you need a little Fourier and Laplace and z transforms for background. And vector calculus to help you learn Maxwell's Equations. Far field equations are wonderful, but you worry about when an electromagnetic field gives up and becomes a single photon. You learn how radios work. You learn about signal detection, and probability theory, and CDMA, and MUFs and LUFs and UMP detectors and Cramer-Rao bounds and Rayleigh scattering and Fresnel zones and tricks of the trade like sqrt(h) and linearizing amplifiers. There is no end, no end. There is only one more design.

So you are in the middle of the lab at two in the morning. All is quiet and all is dark, except the waveform generator fans, the power supplies, the spectrum analyzers, the logic probes, the glowing LEDs, the warm breadboards toggling at megahertz rates. You look around at all this stuff that took a team of twenty two years to design. Next year it'll be in shake and bake, and a year after that it'll be in space.

All has come to this. This, this feeling, this moment. Is this all there is? Is this all? Is mastery of arcana the culmination of a life of learning?

I turned and walked out. And never went back.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.