N this picture, I see... a butterfly! A peaceful freely-flitting butterfly. Serenity incarnate. Oh, how it reminds me of the carefree, idyllic days of my childhood, every minute spent in pure contentment, laughing and chasing butterflies, the existence of worries as yet undiscovered. Except, all I can remember about junior high school is an endless string of tormenters, real and imagined, and a crushingly miserable sense of isolation. (Interestingly, every autobiographical account I've ever read of the junior high experience has been almost identical to this. Either junior high is universally a purgatory before ascension to puberty, or those at the top of the pecking order never learned to write.)
ut then... high school! How fondly I recall the carefree, idyllic days spent at Castro Valley High -- a successful track career, a newly awakened passion for the piano, a best friend forever, and a pretty girl by my side. Except until a couple of hamstring injuries ensured that I would never sprint again, and Carpal tunnel pain physically limited my piano time to five minutes a day, and some sort of space-time anomaly apparently remapped forever to a small, finite expanse, and fits of adolescent idiocy resulted in my fleeing to cower in a corner whenever my side was occupied for too long. I guess high school wasn't that carefree or idyllic after all.
ut then... college! Frankly, the only ones who have ever found Caltech at all carefree or idyllic were those whose failure had already been assured, and were simply biding their time until eviction. Nevertheless, Caltech was the best four years of my life. I was introduced to brilliant, fascinating, inspiring people, people who thought and played as I did, people who made me feel at home. I was taught the Way Of The Electron, and I found Enlightenment in an epiphanic discovery destined to guide my journey down the Path Of Life -- the profound, soul-completing Joy of creating Boxes With Lights And Buttons. And, for the first time, I experienced the gentle caress of a woman's hand, and love and passion and quasi-cohabitation, and whispered "I love you"s, and whispered "I don't know if I love you anymore"s, and the enraged slap across the face of a woman's hand, and tears and heartbreak and basically, all of the dramatic elements you would expect from the finest Telemundo soap opera (even including the terrifying, life-threatening medical condition), except mostly in English and without impregnation by space aliens. As far as I'm aware.
ut then... grad school! My experience at UC Berkeley was, to leave a word unminced for once, hell. My own indecisiveness and non-specificity of interest, coupled with Caltech's broad but shallow curriculum, had rendered me a jack of all trades, and master of jack. Many students stride into Ph.D. programs with purpose, determination, and narrowly focused research interests and experience. I blindly stumbled in with a stunningly naive ignorance of contemporary research areas, a stunningly apathetic indifference toward choosing one, and a bunch of stunningly irrelevant Boxes With Lights And Buttons. Problems arose. I spent much of the two years directionless, advisorless, adviceless, deskless, friendless, and generally rather miserable. I was the Ronin of the EECS department. After the concurrent decay and demolition of an unsuccessfully long-distance relationship, I decided to choose defeat over seppuku, and I wrote a thesis about something, got some sort of degree, and left it all behind me.
ut then... unemployment! I gave myself a year to recover from the UC Berkeley Experience and figure out what to do with my life. In that time, I completed various personal projects, read a lot of books (both technical and non), walked to and from everywhere within a seven mile radius of my house, almost started a company, and got no closer to coming up with a research interest than deciding it should eventually be Boxed With Lights And Buttons.
ow... what the hell did all that have to do with butterflies?