tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2030-12-18 02:14 pm

How to post comments if you don't have a Dreamwidth account

I request that you read my comment policy before commenting, especially if you don't know me offline.

If you have a LiveJournal account and want to leave comments on my journal, you can do that without giving Dreamwidth a password or any personal information except an email address. You can follow these instructions (with slight modifications) if you have an account on a site that provides OpenID credentials, too. (For example, any Google or Google+ account should work this way.) Here's how:

  1. Go to the main Dreamwidth page
  2. Follow the "Log In with OpenID" link
  3. In the "Your OpenID URL" box, put yourusername.livejournal.com. For example, if I wanted to log in with my LiveJournal account, I would type "catamorphism.livejournal.com".
  4. Click Login.
  5. Click "Yes, just this time" or "Yes, always" when LiveJournal asks if you want to validate your identity.
  6. The first time you log in, you'll see a message "Please set and confirm your email address". Click the "set" link and follow the instructions.
  7. You'll get an email from Dreamwidth containing a link. Follow the link to confirm your email address.
  8. Follow the instructions. You should now be able to leave comments.

Edited to add as of February 26, 2013: There have been intermittent problems with using OpenID to log in to Dreamwidth. The most reliable way to comment is to create a Dreamwidth account, which is free.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2015-09-04 10:41 pm

Language and trade-offs

There's a thing that happens sometimes when language changes, which is that people mistake a conditional claim for an absolute one.

For example, a person of color might suggest that the terms "primary/replica" could be used instead of the technical term "master/slave", to avoid trivializing an extended era of structural violence which to this date the United States has never made amends for. A white person might reply indignantly, might condemn "language policing" and say "you can't tell me what words to use!"

Now suppose I make the claim that an adjacency list uses less memory to represent a sparse graph than an adjacency matrix does, at the cost of making edge-existence queries less efficient. Is anybody going to tell me that I'm algorithm-policing or that I can't make them stop using an adjacency matrix? I don't think so, because they would recognize that I'm stating that there's a trade-off implicit in your choice of data structure: make edge-existence queries faster, or use less memory. I'm not telling you how you should resolve that trade-off, just that there is one.

Like engineering, language involves trade-offs. Continuing to use the term "master/slave" in technical contexts where it's historically been used arguably has the advantage of being a well-understood term, as well as saving the time that would be spent explaining and possibly defending the decision to switch to new vocabulary. The disadvantage of continuing to use "master/slave" is that it alienates many Black Americans, among others.

It's up to each individual to decide whether they want to resolve this particular linguistic trade-off on the side of subjective clarity, or of making as many people as possible feel welcome. To point out that a trade-off exists isn't to demand that it be resolved in one particular way. It's just to help people make decisions that reflect their values, just as explaining engineering trade-offs helps people make wise use of the resources available to them.

Another politically loaded technical term is "divide and conquer". Recursive algorithms aren't inherently violent or militaristic -- why not "divide and solve" or "divide and organize"? Again, there's a trade-off: using the historically accepted term "divide and conquer" has the advantage of clarity, while "divide and solve" has the advantage of not normalizing violence or abuse of power. You might choose to accept "primary/replica" but continue saying "divide and conquer", and that's fine. Just realize that there are trade-offs involved in both, and that the choice to continue using an accepted term whose connotations are political is just as political a choice as the choice to adopt a new term.

If I say that QuickSort has better average-case performance while MergeSort has better worst-case performance, I don't think anyone would complain that I'm telling them what sorting algorithm to use, or dictating whether they should care more about average-case performance or about worse-case performance. So why do so many people seem to interpret observations as commands when those observations are about language trade-offs?
tim: Solid black square (black)
2015-07-29 08:17 pm
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In memory of Nóirín Plunkett

I learned today that Nóirín Plunkett died suddenly (Ada Initiative memorial post) (Sumana Harihareswara's memorial post) (geekfeminism.org memorial post). Nóirín was my friend, and was too young.

It's hard to know what to say about a friend's death when you haven't been in close contact with that friend for some time. Internet-based relationships tend to ebb and flow, but you always assume that there's going to be another flow. I met Nóirín at least once but maybe not more than three times offline -- I always took it for granted that of course I'd see them at a conference again someday. The online community in which we interacted the most ceased to exist in its current form sometime last year, and as a result, the only notable exchange we had recently was an email I sent to Nóirín last fall, in which I introduced them to a college friend of mine who was starting a tech nonprofit. Nóirín became the operations manager for that nonprofit, Simply Secure, and my friend wrote today, "they consistently impressed me with their wisdom, kindness, pragmatic capacity, and intricate vision for what our organization could become. They were not just a colleague but a professional partner & a rapidly-growing friend. I learned much from them, and will always treasure time we got to spend together."

Nóirín made the world a better place by being in it, both locally and globally. They were enthusiastic about technology and about social justice. In a short lifetime, they repeatedly demonstrated acts of courage, calling out oppressive acts at great personal cost.

I will miss them.
tim: Solid black square (black)
2015-06-18 05:52 pm
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"We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes"

Last night, one of the worst domestic terrorism attacks in recent history happened in Charleston, South Carolina. A man acting in the name of white supremacy murdered nine Black people, most of whom were women, while they prayed at the Emanuel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South.

These are the names of the people who he murdered:

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

DePayne Middleton Doctor

Cynthia Hurd

Susie Jackson

Ethel Lance

Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney

Tywanza Sanders

Daniel Simmons

Myra Thompson

Please read more about their lives.

If you're a white American and have an income, I strongly suggest donating to organizations that fight white supremacy. Here are some suggestions from Valerie Aurora:

Equal Justice Initiative

Representative John Conyers, who has introduced legislation every year to make reparations for slavery to Black Americans.

We the Protestors

You can also donate directly to the Emanuel AME Church.

tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2015-06-13 07:37 am
Entry tags:

Content warnings, protection, compassion

I wrote this as a comment to a friends-only post and decided to rewrite it as a post on my own journal and elaborate on it.

I was responding to a post from a survivor who expressed a belief that trigger warnings[*] are a threat to their ability to recover and that writers or editors shouldn't be too sensitive.

Content warning: discussion of the effects of early childhood trauma in re: ability to trust.
On staying sick and not getting well )
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2015-06-09 12:21 pm
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Moving some writing over to Tumblr

After years of grumbling, I finally gave in and created a Tumblr account; I'm [tumblr.com profile] emotionallaborunion there.

As an experiment, I'm going to try posting some writing over there, since I like Tumblr's tagging and reblogging capabilities. I don't intend to abandon Dreamwidth.

Accordingly, go over to Tumblr if you want to read my thoughts on the Mountain Goats show in Dallas last night and the end of just-short-of-two weeks of following them on tour.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2015-06-04 11:27 am
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Criticism avoidance, triggers, and wrong people on the Internet

Content note: In this post I discuss a particular form of emotionally abusive behavior called "criticism avoidance", and directly quote from criticism-avoidant discourse. Read with care if you find narcissistic behavior to be triggering. I also describe my own experience of being triggered and reacting with dissociation.

When you're a survivor of complex trauma in childhood, one of the things that might happen is that you don't experience triggers in the way that people who developed PTSD in adulthood do. In fact, you might get triggered all the time, without being aware that that's what you're experiencing, because habits developed when you're very young -- of not paying attention to what you're experiencing, because it isn't safe to pay attention to what you're experiencing -- persist.

While I am very much in favor of the widespread adoption of trigger warnings or content warnings (I prefer "content warning" since it's more inclusive of those of us who may not always be aware that we're triggered or may not be able to articulate what triggers us) I feel a little strange about arguing for them from the perspective of someone with CPTSD, but not from the perspective of someone who finds much utility in content warnings for common triggers.

I can tell you one thing that triggers me for sure, which is narcissistic behavior. Not everybody who's ever related to XKCD 386 is traumatized, but when you were raised by a narcissist and you experience the drive to re-enact, the Internet is a really great place for that.

The thing is that nobody can give me a content warning for the narcissistic behavior they're about to engage in, because if they were self-aware enough to do that, they wouldn't be behaving narcissistically. The type of behavior I'm talking about has been characterized by Issendai as "criticism avoidance" (content warning for extensive discussion of abusive, narcissistic parents) and by Patricia J. Williams as anxiety over loss of self-image (in contrast with loss of self). It's also been called "inquiry-resistant dialogue", and many specific examples of it have been catalogued on the Geek Feminism wiki, under the name "silencing tactics".

It is compelling to re-enact one's past conflicts with a narcissist, for a couple of reasons:

  1. The people on the Internet you're arguing with are probably not actually narcissists (if they really were, arguing with them would be like telling your cat to stop meowing), but are emulating narcissism due to socially learned behavior arising from unchecked privilege. When you directly or indirectly tell someone to check their privilege, you have a chance of getting them to snap out of it.
  2. Whether or not the people you're arguing with actually are narcissists, standing up to them lets bystanders know that people can and do stand up to bullies, and that's important.
  3. On some irrational level, it gives you hope that you can repeat the struggle you had with somebody who was all-powerful over you, the struggle that you perhaps fantasized about winning through the superior power of your persuasive skills (if you were a child who was getting good at intellectualizing), and win this time. This is false hope.

It's also often ill-advised, because sometimes you end up with a rage hangover and nobody learns anything.

But aside from the wisdom or lack thereof of re-enactment, I want to ask why people retreat into criticism avoidance. This is something that we all do to varying degrees. I do it, because it's possible to both experience and re-experience trauma and abuse and to act abusively to others. It's not either/or. There is no clear binary between abusers and abused people, as tempting as it is to believe in one. The binary, if there is one, is between people who are making an attempt to reflect on their own actions while being painfully honest with themselves, and those who are making no such attempt.

I also want to give you an example of what I'm talking about when I say "criticism avoidance", in the form of a quote from Brendan Eich from a 2012 blog post:
Ignoring the abusive comments, I’m left with charges that I hate and I’m a bigot, based solely on the donation. Now “hate” and “bigot” are well-defined words. I say these charges are false and unjust.

First, I have been online for almost 30 years. I’ve led an open source project for 14 years. I speak regularly at conferences around the world, and socialize with members of the Mozilla, JavaScript, and other web developer communities. I challenge anyone to cite an incident where I displayed hatred, or ever treated someone less than respectfully because of group affinity or individual identity.

Second, the donation does not in itself constitute evidence of animosity. Those asserting this are not providing a reasoned argument, rather they are labeling dissenters to cast them out of polite society. To such assertions, I can only respond: “no”.

Since we don't know what Brendan was actually thinking here -- he chose to write in a manner that obscured his actual thoughts and feelings rather than illuminating them -- I'm going to speculate about a fictional character I just invented whose name is Brandon and who fictionally said the same thing quoted above, but to my face instead of in a blog post. Since I'm talking about a fictional character and there's no point in understanding a fictional character's psyche, the goal here is to understand criticism avoidance, not to understand Brendan or Brandon.

Brandon experienced criticism when a series of donations, both to the campaign in favor of California's Proposition 8 and to a number of radical right-wing political candidates, that he made were exposed. The difficult, but more rewarding, thing for Brandon to do would have been to listen to his critics and try to hear what they were saying even if some of the words they were using made him feel upset or attacked.

Brandon chose the easy road, the one many of us choose, especially when we feel we have power. He chose to withdraw from genuine engagement and to use his defense mechanisms. The first defense mechanism he invokes is that he has never displayed open animus to somebody directly because of who they are. The second defense mechanism he invokes is that he has a right to behave as he likes and that, implicitly, he doesn't care if somebody is hurt by his behavior. The third defense mechanism, which he invokes in the first paragraph I quoted, is to defend himself against criticisms of his actions with an appeal to his essential character. This particular defense mechanism is so powerful because we can never know anybody else's essential character. If a person like Brandon is successful in recentering a conversation on who people are rather than what people do, that means the conversation will never lead towards accountability or restorative justice -- or even to so much as a genuine connection between two people with differences -- just to the defense of the egos of the powerful.

I've read Brendan's blog post several times over the years, so I no longer find it triggering as such, although reading it again just now, I still felt some of the same tightness in my throat and jaw that I usually do when I'm exposed to narcissistic behavior. Imagining a fictional conversation with the fictional Brandon that covers the same ground, though, I can imagine that I would be triggered; I would react in one of the two ways I react when triggered, which is dissociation. I used to think that word referred to watching yourself from outside your body, but it turns out that only describes some people's experience of dissociation. For me, it means that my mind and body, for the duration of the event that feels threatening, are no longer on speaking terms, or rather, are on speaking terms just enough for me to pretend that I'm still listening while my mind retreats into safer thoughts unrelated into situation, or just into white noise. In the fight-flight-or-freeze trichotomy, this is an example of freezing. It's like pretending to be dead, except the only person you're pretending to be dead to is yourself. It comes naturally to me because I spent most of my childhood in that state.

(The other way that I react is with anger, but since I've learned it's generally not safe for me to express anger directly, in face-to-face interactions, with someone who has behaved in ways I find triggering, I generally only react that way in a text-mediated interaction.)

In this hypothetical conversation, then, I'm triggered because I don't feel safe, and the way that I automatically protect myself when I don't feel safe is to dissociate. I'm also arguing that in this hypothetical conversation, Brandon is reacting semi-automatically as well: he experiences a threat to his ego (being called a bigot) and because he finds this threat too terrifying to engage with on the level of empathetic, connected conversation, he retreats into accusations ("false and unjust").

So are both of us triggered?

I don't think so, because his and my reactions have different causes. To return to Patricia J. Williams' framing, in this hypothetical situation, I am experiencing a threat to self and Brandon is experiencing a threat to self-image. Both his feelings and mine are genuine. But mine are rooted in re-experiencing of a situation in which my self was genuinely threatened, in which there were no boundaries between myself and somebody who was supposed to be responsible for helping me develop independently but didn't. His feelings, on the other hand, are not rooted in such an early trauma. Caring about what other people think of you is something that people start to do as teenagers. People can experience genuine distress because they are worried that other people think things about them that doesn't match how they think of themselves, but it is not the same as re-experiencing a very early and fundamental existential threat.

Brandon is retreating from connection with other people because he can't bear the risk that he might have to re-examine his self-image as a result of criticism from them. But when I react this way, I'm retreating from connection with both other people and myself. Interactions like this one didn't establish the habit I have of doing that, but it can reinforce that habit, and when people interact with me, they have the choice of reminding me, once again, that I can't trust people, or of acting in a way that might inspire trust.

It's their choice. I can't tell them what to do. One way in which people can act so as to inspire trust, not just in me but in many other people who are trauma survivors, is to think about us as if we're human beings who have thoughts and feelings that are just as complex as theirs. One thing that looks like, concretely, is the use of content warnings and trigger warnings in writing. In a one-to-one conversation, it has to look more like constant and active effort to maintain connection rather than to retreat from potential criticism.

Like love, in other words.

Ideally, we would always be understanding of others even when their behavior is making us angry, upset, or even triggered. In practice, I don't expect myself to be Jesus, at least not most of the time. I don't think it would be desirable, even. To quote Bob Franke's song "Eye of the Serpent", "Sometimes I try to be so good that I murder my holiest self." I think that sometimes, defending myself, taking time that is just for defending myself and not for understanding others, is a way of protecting my holiest self. Besides, people don't always want to be understood, because if other people understood them, they might have to understand themselves and confront some hard truths. This is all advice, by the way, that I have to remember to follow when I'm in the role of someone who may fall into the trap of engaging narcissistic defense mechanisms against somebody else, and I often am in that role.

But I hope I've gotten across one way in which being triggered can be different from just being upset or feeling attacked.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-06-03 01:33 pm
Entry tags:

Your data aren't safe with Dropbox, volume 2

Dropbox, as I documented previously, states that they will permanently lock you out of your account if you have 2-factor authentication enabled and you lose your phone.

This isn't really true, though -- they make an exception if you know somebody who works for Dropbox. I was able to find someone in my social network who does, and was thus able to get all of my files back.

If you don't think it's fair for a company to treat users with friends who know people who work for that company one way, and everybody else a different way, probably don't use Dropbox.
It's interesting to me that the effect of the utter lack of regulation that the software industry suffers is that companies basically act like traumatized kids. As a traumatized kid, I understand (from extensive experience) hypervigilance: when you become focused on one type of threat and obsessive about avoiding it, at the potential expense of being unaware of other types of threats.

Imagine that your bank refused to grant you access to your life savings because you had 2-factor authentication enabled on your account and you lost your phone. Unimaginable, right? But it's only unimaginable because the banking industry is regulated. We consider it normal for cloud software providers to lock customers out of their accounts because the software industry is unregulated.

In the absence of external regulation, children don't learn to develop self-regulation, which is why kids raised in chaotic environments (hi) sometimes have trouble taking care of themselves as adults. Likewise, in the absence of external regulation, businesses can't self-regulate. We see that in software: inappropriate concern for one particular type of threat (a lawsuit due to someone fraudulently accessing account that isn't theirs) outweighs another, just as legitimate threat (the threat of paying customers not being able to access their own data).

The software industry can't regulate itself. In an age where more and more data are getting centralized (what we call "cloud computing" actually refers to the consolidation of power over ownership of information in the hands of just a few big companies -- perhaps, after all the mergers have happened -- just one), it's more and more important for us to organize to stop companies like Dropbox from setting our priorities for us.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2015-06-01 01:34 pm
Entry tags:

Recognition and Objectification

This essay is an elaboration of a series of tweets I wrote. The original tweets were compiled by [twitter.com profile] listelian with added commentary that I recommend.

"Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed"

-- Bob Dylan

Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of today's "Vanity Fair". She was not the first trans woman to pose with less than street clothes on in a magazine -- Laverne Cox did that, earlier this year, and Cox deserves praise for that.

So does Jenner. I looked at that magazine cover and, well, as weird as it is to say, I recognized something. There are a lot of differences between Caitlyn Jenner and me. I'm not rich, famous, or Republican. I was coercively assigned female at birth. But I looked at that cover and I saw somebody who's spent decades of her life struggling with the distance between how she looks in the mirror and how she sees herself in her mind's eye, and who has finally been able to look like she needs to, or enough like it to appear confidently on a magazine cover.

Not everybody can afford to look like they need to look, but everybody should be, and when I look at the picture I think that everybody should have access to the same resources that Jenner had access to. I hope it's possible for me to acknowledge massive social inequality and the need to redress it, and, at the same time, find meaning in this photograph.

Finding meaning in things, especially finding reflections of myself in anything or anybody else in the world, can be hard for me. Just seeing my own reflection in the mirror can be hard for me.

For whatever reason, I can look at it right now, and think that I look okay. I didn't think that last year and I might not think it again next year, but it's okay for now.

Part of the reason for that is that I dyed my hair pink again. It's not that my internal image of my true self has pink hair... though maybe it does. To be honest, that image has never fully come into focus for me. It's more that having pink hair makes me like looking at myself, and then I can look at the rest of me, too, not just my hair.

Maybe it's not so important that I dyed my hair pink as it is that I made a choice to change how I look, and carried out that choice. It doesn't matter that I paid somebody else to dye my hair for me, which is what I did this time, it matters that I exercised agency.

To get to a point where what color my hair is could matter, though, I had to do some other things first.

Sculptures and Monsters

When I talk about being able to, or not being able to, look at myself, it's a way for me of talking about something harder to talk about, which is a feeling of not being fully present in or comfortable in my own body. These are different things but it's hard to separate them from each other.

I'm fat, which means that socially, I get discouraged from thinking I look attractive or even that I should be looked at at all. (Since I'm a guy, I experience this less harshly than fat women do, but I still experience it.)

I'm trans, which means that socially, I get discouraged from thinking I look attractive. Part of it is that I'm too short and fat to look like the gold standard for attractive male guys when I have my clothes on. Part of it is that when I have my clothes off, you can tell I'm hung like a hamster. Part of it is that at least these days, my gender presentation runs more femme than masc, and there is not much room for femme guys in what gets falsely reduced to a zero-sum game of who gets to be attractive. But also, internally, I have trouble occupying my own body. Sometimes, anyway; less than I used to have, partly because of the changes I've been able to make to my body and partly because of harder-to-describe changes.

I'm a survivor of complex trauma in childhood, and I wish I could explain to you more fully what that means but part of being a survivor of complex trauma is having difficulty explaining what it means. Imagine if somebody was running around pulling bricks out of your house while you were building it, and then imagine how much structural integrity your house might have left at the end. That's what trauma does to your ability to describe emotional experiences. The best I can do right now is that when I was growing up, I was not permitted to have the boundaries about what does and doesn't happen in and around my body that even very young children usually get permitted to have. On an emotional level, I never really formed the belief that my body is my own -- something that it seems a lot of people take for granted. So that also makes it hard for me to actually be in my own body, much beyond the baseline difficulty I'd already have with it if I was trans and not a survivor.

It's easy for me to focus on how I look and harder to think about my subjective experience, for reasons that are probably familiar to other survivors. But I think that also reflects widespread confusion about trans experience. Most narratives about trans people tell us that we transition in order to look different to other people. Most of those narratives are written by cis people. The real reasons why we transition, which are different for every person who transition, have more to do (in my opinion) with looking right to ourselves, and also with feeling right to ourselves. Because it's hard to describe subjective experiences, I'm writing about looking at yourself in a mirror as a stand-in for that.

This is the minimal backstory I feel I need to lay down to say this: When you don't feel comfortable with yourself, it is hard to figure out what would make you feel comfortable and harder still to show that to other people. What if they laugh? What if they accuse you of not being really yourself when you actually feel like yourself for the first time ever? Those are things that really happen, especially to trans people, but not just to trans people. Caitlyn Jenner, at 65 years of age, figured it out anyway and showed herself anyway. She didn't, at least in the end, let anybody tell her that it was too late and she should just live out what years she had pretending to be somebody else.

I transitioned when I was 26, which was eight years after I learned that transitioning was possible. It was a long eight years. I can't imagine how long 45 to 65 years is when you know you need to transition but you can't, or don't feel it's possible, or feel that the loss of your dignity and pride will outweigh the benefits of seeing yourself as you are, or have the expectations of family, friends, or even the general public weighing on you, or or or. While recognizing that few people have the privilege to do what she did in the precise way she did it, I still feel glad for Jenner that she was able to do it, because everybody should be able to. Also, because having models helps us figure out our lives even if necessarily, models are often public figures and public figures are almost by definition privileged in some or many ways. (This is not to discount the real danger in visibility and fame for all women, particularly women experiencing one or more types of intersectional oppression, either.)

So the thoughts and feelings I had when I looked at that magazine cover were about my own experiences and about the partial but still real way in which they relate to Caitlyn Jenner's experiences.

The thoughts that some cis people had, though, were more along the lines of: "Wow, she looks good. Her surgeons did a good job."

Let me interject with a couple things here: First, it's okay to say that somebody looks good. You would say that to a friend, so I don't see why you shouldn't say it about someone who chose to appear on a magazine cover. At least it seems fine to me.

Second, I didn't read the article inside the magazine (yet), so I don't know what Jenner has said publicly about what surgeries she has or hasn't had. From the picture alone, I am not going to assume anything about what surgeries she has or hasn't had. It's certainly not uncommon for people who appear on magazine covers, whether or not they're trans, to have surgery. But I do want to call out the assumption that she must have had surgery in order to look as she does. Trans people do a variety of things in order to make our bodies externally look and internally feel different. Surgery is only one of them. The details of any of these things are none of your goddamned business unless you are a trans person, an intimate friend of a trans person, someone who thinks you may be trans (and if you think you may be, I would encourage you not to run from those thoughts), or a medical professional who helps trans people with our body issues.

With those disclaimers in mind, I want to talk about how it felt to me to read the words "Her surgeons did a good job." (I am paraphrasing; those may not have been the exact words.)

There is this thing that can happen when you exercise agency over your own body to reshape it in some way, and that thing is getting demoted from the status of "person" to the status of "sculpture".

Suddenly, you are no longer a human being struggling to make your own body a place you can feel at home in, but rather -- and this is at best (I'll get to what the worst of it can look like) -- a work of art that a cis person made. You are no longer self-made.

"Isn't it a nice thing to say that somebody looks good?" Well, yes. But it's not a nice thing to go from there to congratulating the surgeons. Where does it stop? If I look good, are you going to tell me that my dentist or my hairdresser or the people running the machines that sewed my clothes deserve praise? Well, you might, but not if your conversational objective is to connect with me. Complimenting haircuts is, indeed, within social norms, complimenting surgery isn't... except when the object is trans, or disabled, or fat, or -- you guessed it -- in those social categories whose residents' humanity is contingent.

Do you know what the mirror image of "sculpture" is? It's "monster". When you talk about a trans person as an object of aesthetic appreciation in an immediate context of talking about what surgical interventions that trans person has had, you are steps away from treating that person like Frankenstein's monster. The subtext that's obvious to many of us is how amazing it is that any surgeon could have the technique necessary to make somebody who looks male -- in your eyes -- look female -- in your eyes. (Or vice versa, and it doesn't happen as much in the other direction but I've experienced it firsthand.) The subtext is that we're freaks of science, that we're freaks of nature, that we're objects of curiosity. When trans women talk about how they're made to feel like monsters, or like artificial creations (see Talia Mae Bettcher's "Evil Deceivers and Make-Believers: On Transphobic Violence and the Politics of Illusion"), I listen. I can relate, but there is a limit to how far my ability to relate goes, because as a trans man I do not experience the same degree of othering, of socially enforced disgust, of structural violence that trans people who were coercively assigned male at birth do.

But I know this much: you cannot talk about a trans woman like she was a sculpture, or an object of art, or a constructed thing without implicitly designating her a monster, a cold creation of technology, not human. Stop it.

Surgery and Dignity

In order to look like myself, or to start to look like myself, I've had five surgeries. The details of four are only relevant to myself, people who see me naked, and a number of people who work for insurance companies.

In 2009 I had radical breast reduction surgery. The result is that my body from neck to waist looks mostly right to me, aside from the scars that still look fresh because I develop hypertrophic scar tissue and aside from how my nipples are a little bit bigger than guys' nipples outside of the Folsom Street Fair are supposed to be. These are details that, on a good day, I can integrate.

What's harder to integrate is the memory of reading the surgeon's post-op report and noticing that in his narrative of performing the surgery, he used the pronouns "she" and "her" to refer to me, despite having correctly gendered me to my face. Dr. Paul Steinwald, if you're reading this, I hope you're not doing that to people anymore. I'm sure that he thought I was never going to read the report, but due to his own unwillingness to bill my insurance, I had to request a copy from the hospital. (And by the way, Aetna Student Health reimbursed me for 80% of my out-of-pocket.)

One of the things you might have to do if you are trans is to trust someone enough to literally cut into your body, knowing that your trust in them may not be justified. In most cases, if you need surgery, you have to trust somebody that much without knowing whether you can trust them to acknowledge your gender, a form of respect that all cis people can take for granted.

When people reduce you to the work that your surgeon did, therefore, they may be reducing you to the work of somebody who cannot even recognize who you are even as they are doing work that helps you recognize yourself as who you are. That's not hurtful because it's going to hurt Caitlyn Jenner, who we know is strong enough because she was strong enough to be on that cover. It's hurtful because it reminds some of us of traumatic experiences. It's also hurtful because it reminds other trans people -- ones who are in a state of knowing they need to transition, but not being sure whether it's safe to -- of why it's not safe.

In case I haven't made myself clear: getting surgery as a trans person is a terrifying, humiliating process. Maybe that's beginning to change somewhat. In 2009 and 2012, it was still terrifying and humiliating, and I say that as a trans person who was coercively assigned female at birth. That is, I say that as someone who is playing "be a trans person" on the easiest setting. When you look at a trans person who has had surgery and you see an object that a surgeon made, rather than another human being, you are making that process more terrifying and humiliating, most of all for people who sense that they may need to go through that same process but are justifiably afraid to. Many of the reasons for this fear -- for the fear that I experienced myself when I was deciding whether to get surgery, in 2007-2009 and again in 2011 -- are internal. But "ooh, nice results" comments and the objectification they stand for don't make it any easier.

The point, the only point, of transitioning for me was so I could be a real person. So I could feel like a real person. The terror of it was the risk I sensed, which is a real risk, that it would make me a less real person in other people's eyes. The reward is the knowledge that I can see myself as real even while other people do not. I'm trying to use my best prose here, but that inevitably simplifies a long, hard, scary, uncomfortable period of emotional labor. If you are not trans, you have the option to make that work harder for other people, or to not make it harder. Try to use your power responsibly.

Trans Empathy and the Cis Gaze

To look at Caitlyn Jenner on the Vanity Fair cover and say "ooh, nice results" is to make her an object rather than a subject. To be a surgeon who operates on a trans man and writes "She tolerated the anesthesia well" in a post-op report is to make him an object rather than a subject.

"But Tim," you might ask, "Isn't the reason why people appear scantily clad on magazine covers is that they want to be objectified?"

Well... no? I mean, no one has ever offered to let me pose for Vanity Fair, so I haven't had to think about whether I would want to and if so, why. But as far as I can tell, what celebrities do is satisfy their own need for attention while also making other people feel good. Attention is something that everybody needs and there's nothing wrong with being very good at getting it. There's nothing in there about being objectified. Being paid attention to doesn't mean being objectified. Being appreciated as a person whose body is attractive isn't the same thing as being objectified. If you can't separate those things, or can't separate them specifically for women whose bodies you find attractive, maybe take a gender studies class.

When you have a pleasant feeling of aesthetic appreciation about somebody else's body, that's a thing to cherish. It is, however, your feeling. Whether you're having a good feeling about somebody else or a bad one, whether it's about how they look or what they do or what they say, your feeling doesn't create an exception to the imperative to respect others and see them as humans like yourself.

My feeling, when I look at the cover, is to appreciate another trans person's struggle -- despite the gulf between what her life is like and what my life is like -- and, by virtue of how the appreciation survives the distance, feel a little less alone. I can't say I know what it's like to channel dysphoria into being an Olympic athlete rather than being a computer programmer, or what it's like to keep your own gender to yourself for more than 50 years, but I do know when to say, "Wow, that woman must be so happy to look in the mirror and see a reflection that finally makes sense." I know that because I've known, at times, what it's like to look in the mirror and see a reflection that makes sense.

I guess you are entitled to feel however you want, but feeling something is different from choosing to say it in public, and when you do choose to say in public that what you feel when you look at the cover is artistic appreciation of surgeons' work, rather than empathy, that harshes my buzz a bit.

Autonomy and Terror

What every person who transitions does, whether or not they are a public figure, is lose autonomy. That's in the short term. The hope is that in the long term we will achieve greater autonomy and a stronger sense of self. But in the short term, there's constant misgendering, there's getting called "it", there's struggling with dehumanizing administrative processes in order to have a valid driver's license and hold a job, there's being rejected for jobs out of hand, there's doctors, there's therapists, some of whom help and some of whom can't see beyond their own fears. I promise you that while this process is easier the more social privilege you have, no trans person has enough privilege to escape it.

Cis people, it's your job to create a world where we as trans people don't have to be afraid of you. We have many reasons to be afraid of you. A relatively minor but important one is this: you have the power to drown out an inner voice inside us that says, "Hey, maybe I could look like me, too!" with your own voice saying "We're always just going to see you as raw material." You have the power to make somebody just that much more afraid to take the steps needed to look like their own self. You can do better: when a famous person or maybe just a person important in your life comes out as trans, ask yourself: "Does the world really need to hear my hot take?" Please try not to drown out trans people's recognition of self with your ogling of the other.

Fellow trans people, it's a valid choice to transition in order to reclaim some dignity, and it is a valid choice to not transition -- to not transition at all or to transition in a way that doesn't follow the coming-out-to-everybody-you-know narrative -- in order to preserve your dignity. It's a valid choice to decide that one of the two binary genders fits you better than the one you were assigned at birth and to let people know that. It's also a valid choice to decide that because your gender matches neither binary option, there is no broadly legible end point for you to transition to.

I want to say that I love you no matter how you choose to navigate and manage being trans, even if I don't even know you're the gender that you are because of how you navigate your experience of gender. I wish it was easier to manage one's own experience of one's body and self without the crushing weight of very justified fears. But I know the way for me to deal with that wish isn't to expect individuals to be more public and be more out. That's just what the oppressor wants me to think. Reading things that cis people say about Caitlyn Jenner, as with the things they've said about every trans public figure who has come out as trans in this century so far, is nothing if not a reminder to myself to treat every other trans person as if they are at least as complex as I am and at least as deserving of space in which to apprehend their own complexity.

"They won't see you
Not until you want them to"

-- the Mountain Goats
tim: Solid black square (black)
2015-05-27 09:47 am
Entry tags:

"Truth is the first casualty of war."

"What artists and prisoners have in common is that both know what it means to be free."
-- James Baldwin

As of today, Chelsea Manning has been in prison for five years for doing right by her country. Freedom isn't free. In the article, she writes that five years ago, she was "considerably less mature". She is a day short of seven years younger than me. Five years ago she was 22 years old, unimaginably young.

Maybe the world needs more young people who don't fully understand "the potential consequences and outcomes of [their] actions". Isn't that what the abstract idea of fighting for your country is about -- the recruitment of people too young to comprehend the consequences of death, or of being alive and unable to forget what you saw? Fully aware of consequences or not, Chelsea Manning did the right thing, knowing at least on some level what the cost could be to her as a trans woman, when so many people with so much less to lose did not do the right thing. I ask myself if I could do what she did, and because the terms and conditions of my life are such that I'll never have as much to lose as she did in 2010 and does now, I don't and won't know the answer.

Maybe it's no surprise, even, that a trans woman gave this gift to us. I know how deep the need to know the truth can go when you're brought up in a world that seems to be built on lies. We as trans people all come from a world like that, even those of us who only have the fuzziest sense early on that we're being lied to about who we are. To paraphrase (IIRC) Katha Pollitt, social change is made by people who can't stand the way things are any more. It's not made by people who are well-served by the world as it is.

Likewise, maybe Manning was better prepared to give up her freedom for the sake of exposing an unjust war because she knew she was never going to be free anyway. They say freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose, but maybe those of us who have never felt free, who never had the illusion that the world was going to be full of people who'd walk hand in hand with us on our journey to self-actualization, are actually the most free. We may be afraid of a lot of things, but we do know that freedom -- for us -- won't arise from fear of rattling the cage we were born in.

The world needs people like Manning, but people like her don't need to sacrifice their freedom for a world that is often unworthy. Chelsea Manning made that sacrifice anyway. Let's not forget. Let's hope for her freedom and for all of our freedom from fear, violence, and lies.

standing on the firing line,
leaving all the others behind,
running to the fray,
going where no man will go,
running to confront every foe,
On another good dying day.
-- Bob Franke
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2015-05-20 07:51 am
Entry tags:

Mountain Goats video of the day

I wrote before about the Mountain Goats' song "The Legend of Chavo Guerrero". The official video for it just got released, starring the members of the band and Chavo Guerrero himself.

I can't stop watching this.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-05-19 06:29 pm
Entry tags:

Don't use Dropbox

If Condoleezza Rice being on the board of directors wasn't enough for you, if their employees literally bullying children in San Francisco wasn't enough for you, hear me out here. I'm currently permanently locked out of my Dropbox account containing years' worth of photos because a phone repair place destroyed my phone and I had 2-factor authentication enabled. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess!

Other services, such as pobox.com, will reset 2FA if you send them a notarized letter proving your identity. Not Dropbox, though! Here's the response I received from their support team when I asked the following:
I'm surprised by this response, since pobox.com was able to reset my 2FA when I sent them a notarized letter confirming my identity. Is there a reason that Dropbox wouldn't be able to accept such a letter from me as proof of my identity?

And here's the response I received:

Hello Tim,

Thanks for getting back to me! Apologies for the delay in my response- I had passed along your request to several of my teammates to look into as well. Unfortunately, we have no method to verify your identity and disable two-step verification if you do not have any of the following:

1. a linked computer or mobile device
2. your 16-digit emergency backup code
3. a backup phone number on file that can receive text messages

As noted, for security purposes, if you can't enter the six-digit code from your phone, and you didn't store the 16-digit emergency backup code, we have no way to help you regain access to your Dropbox account. We can't turn off two-step verification for you because email alone is no longer sufficient to prove your identity. The best we can do is help you make a new account and transfer any paid credit and bonus space you've earned. But we can't transfer any files.

If you create a new account, please reply with that account's email address so that I can help you further.

Dropbox doesn't care about your data. They will deny access to your data because they're too lazy to open a letter from a paying customer. If you don't think that's okay, don't use Dropbox. (By the way, can anyone recommend a cloud backup service that cares about customer data?)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-05-18 03:34 am
Entry tags:

My only regret is that I don't know where that jacket is

Someone, apparently, found this picture of me from circa 2004 and thought it would be a cool idea to post it to imgur with my full name and common Internet handle attached.

And you know what? They were right. I look fucking hot in it.

That's me. I'm him.
tim: text: "I'm not offended, I'm defiant" (defiant)
2015-05-16 09:56 am
Entry tags:

xpost from [personal profile] tim_plays: "Beans Tomorrow"

This morning I got inspired by [twitter.com profile] mountain_goats yelling at [twitter.com profile] scotte_allen and wrote a song. Scott E. Allen is the mendacious assclown who introduced a bill into the Wisconsin state legislature barring SNAP recipients from using food stamps to pay for dried beans, as well as any other foods he doesn't think are "healthy". (I don't know where he received his doctorate in nutrition.)

Sure, calling politicians "assclowns" doesn't solve any problems, but trying to control what poor people put in their bodies doesn't either. And the latter is pretty fucking personal to me, since I grew up on, and ate food by virtue of, public assistance from birth to age 16.

There are only so many synonyms for "assclown", though, so after joining in the Twitter yelling for a bit, I thought about the bigger picture and wrote this song.

Grazing yogurt pretzels
From the bins at Stop & Shop
I wonder if the creeping feeling's
ever gonna stop
Iran-Contra on TV
every single day
I don't know what's happening but
I know I'm gonna pay
Read more... )
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-05-15 10:20 am

Rust 1.0 is out!

A bit over four years ago, I arrived at Mozilla in Mountain View for an internship on the Rust team. That internship became a full-time job when it became clear to me that I was no longer welcome in my Ph.D program.

A year and a half ago, I left Mozilla. I've had plenty of critical things to say about Mozilla, and a few critical things to say about the Rust team specifically. That doesn't change the fact that working on Rust made me feel like I was part of something again, and that it turned how I felt about my career in software into a much more positive direction. There were ups and downs, but during the best times, working with the Rust team was the most positive experience of my professional life over the past 15 years. Not to get too sentimental, but there is a certain way in which it saved my life.

During my two and a half years on the team, the pressure to get to 1.0 and the uncertainty over what that would mean were constant presences. It was a goal that, I think, provided mostly positive stress, but I could feel the worries about when it was ever going to happen, if it was ever going to happen. Everyone who worked on Rust wanted it to succeed, but the problems that usually happen whenever several driven and creative people try to collaborate happened, and made it harder to come to agreement over what 1.0 was going to mean and when it should happen.

I haven't followed Rust development since I left, but hearing that Rust 1.0 has been released today means a lot to me even so. Congratulations to everyone involved, but especially to [personal profile] graydon2, without whom none of this would have happened.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2015-05-10 11:59 am

"Statement of Purposelessness", by guest blogger 25-year-old Tim

I stumbled upon this essay I wrote almost ten years ago, which I wrote in order to shake out all the laughs before writing a genuine statement of purpose.

I have edited it heavily in order to remove the more libelous parts and to redact the names of the person I was asserting I wanted to work with as well as my own name-at-the-time. Those mentions of specific people that haven't been edited out are of people who I think highly of. Really. I meant well.

I'm posting it not just because I think I'm funny, but also because the parts of this that aren't lies are a little bit revealing of the career path I actually took and I like to think that might be helpful for someone reading this who's starting out in the same field. Not that I would recommend anyone do what I did.

At the time, I said I was going to make this public once I had tenure. Since I'm never going to have tenure, I'm posting this now. And really, isn't knowing that I'll never have it a little bit like getting it, without all the hard work?

"Statement of Purposelessness".

Originally written in Cambridge, England, November 21, 2006
Heavily edited, May 10, 2015


I would like to be admitted to your graduate program in order to study functional programming. I like functional languages (particularly Haskell), because they let me be as lazy as possible when I write programs, and I'm a very lazy programmer. I also like Haskell because Haskell programmers seem to be a lot hotter than other programmers on average. What can I say, I have a weakness for guys with ponytails. The only problem is that there aren't enough women who do Haskell, but the men are girly enough that that kind of makes up for it. I mean that in a nice way.

I want to attend your university and work with [REDACTED] because few other professors are as successful nerds as the one I aspire to be. I hope to learn from him about how to title papers with ridiculous puns, take off my shirt during talks, and still be respected by more or less everybody. I would also like to learn from him how to get a cushy industry job during the tech bubble and then retreat back to a cushy academic job when the bubble bursts.

I've achieved my current state of programming language enlightenment by being stubborn, unimaginative, lazy, and foolish, so I plan to stay on that horse and ride it to the finish line. 13 more paragraphs )

In summary, please admit me to [REDACTED UNIVERSITY] because if I don't get into your school, and don't get into Cambridge either, I'll probably have to go to Portland State [**], and people will laugh at me. Then again, I might end up working in the operating-system-in-Haskell project if I went there. So like I said, people will laugh at me. Also, if you don't accept me, I'll [REDACTED SERIES OF CRUDE THREATS AND BOASTS WHICH NO LONGER REPRESENT MY VIEWS ABOUT WOMEN]. No, but srsly, I would like to be IN UR UNIVERSITY IMPLEMENTING UR LANGUAGEZ, because god knows the faculty aren't going to do it.

aged 25 11/12

2015 footnotes:
[*] This seemingly-incredible statement was based on working in the Valley during the dark hour between the 1990s tech bubble and the San Francisco-based tech bubble.
[**] The redacted university either rejected me, or I never even finished the application. I honestly can't remember. I wasn't even planning on applying to Portland State when I applied to [REDACTED], instead applying at the last minute in March, so really, the joke's on me.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2015-05-10 11:11 am
Entry tags:

Lies I have told myself and others while working in the software industry (by Tim, aged 34 5/12)

It's so great to be able to go out to lunch with a couple of white guys between ages 22-39 and talk about nothing but compilers the entire time. I don't even mind that nobody ever seems to stop to breathe long enough for me to ask a question about something I don't understand. Really, I can just learn about this by osmosis.

I'm here at my desk at 8:30 PM on a Friday night because of my passion for my work.

I'm here at my desk at 8:30 PM on a Friday night because I'm even doing work at all.

// TODO: Fix this later.

I can totally listen to this meeting and isolate this bug at the same time.

It's so liberating that I can have a beer at 5 PM without even leaving the office. Or have one with lunch. Or have one when I come in at noon and lunch is the first meal I'm having that day.

I know I came in at noon, took a long lunch, and now I'm leaving at 4:30, but I'll just do some more work on Caltrain.

I'll just move to the South Bay to be closer to work even though most of my co-workers are hundreds of miles away anyway. It can't be that bad.

I'll just move to San Francisco to be closer to work, I mean, 50% of my take-home pay is a small price to pay for living in paradise.

I can totally commute from Berkeley to Alameda without a car.

Working in San Mateo? That'll be great! It's the heart of Silicon Valley (would Po Bronson lie to me?)

Living in Monterey will be great, I can go to the beach every day after work and it certainly won't be mainly for staring at the sunset and crying.

I guess I'll just live in Salinas because I can't find an apartment in Monterey that I can afford, because how bad can it be to share a house in a cul-de-sac with an ex-Marine?

Erlang is pretty similar to Haskell, after all.

I can cope with listening to the most senior engineer on my team have slapfights with the management every single time he's in the office. I mean, it's not like he's yelling at me.

Continuing to work in the same office with someone who I know sent anonymous threats directed at me will be totally fine. I mean, it's still better here than anyplace else in Silicon Valley.

Working support will be great -- I'll finally have the emotional energy to work on open-source projects after hours, which is absolutely what I want to do with my free time.

Nah, I don't mind walking to the mailbox to mail these CD-ROMs to the customer. It'll be a nice chance to stretch my legs. What, you say the customer never even uses the CDs so I can just send them blank discs? Great, even easier!

You say your company doesn't need to care about diversity because it's a meritocracy? That's a totally valid point of view. Can you tell me about the stock options again?

Fly to Japan because the customer refuses to open up a port so we can ssh into their machine to figure out what's going on? Sure, I wouldn't mind doing that.

I think it's totally cute and funny that you start conversations with all your employees about sex work and porn at the lunch place next to work, but explicitly say the conversation is ending now so you don't get sued for sexual harassment as soon as we walk back into the office. I mean, I know you're doing it to make your Muslim employees uncomfortable rather than to make me uncomfortable even though you think I'm a woman, so it's all good.

I don't mind reimbursing you $30 for the "business lunch" at Buca's that you assumed you would be able to expense even though your team is only 3 people and the company is a worker-owned collective that's losing money.

You don't need me to do that task either because you can do it yourself? All right, cool, I'll just spend this internship writing on LiveJournal and staring blankly at papers on logic programming. It's what I wanted!

Sure, I'll totally work on that PLDI paper with you.

Yeah, I definitely want to write the second version of a package manager whose first version was an abject failure, that'll be a good way to save my career.

Yeah, I can certainly write an entire package manager from scratch in three months, especially since it's pretty clear that your plan is to fire me if I fail to do that.

Sure, I'll be in at 10 AM tomorrow.
tim: A person with multicolored hair holding a sign that says "Binaries Are For Computers" with rainbow-colored letters (binaries)
2015-05-02 09:06 pm

You're invited to apply for the 2015 Ally Skills Workshop, to be held at ICFP in Vancouver, BC

I'm organizing an Ally Skills Workshop at ICFP this August, which Valerie Aurora of the Ada Initiative will be teaching. If you are attending ICFP or a co-located event such as the Haskell Symposium, CUFP, or Erlang Workshop (not an exhaustive list), you are welcome and encouraged to apply to attend!

The workshop is geared towards men in the functional programming community who want to learn how to be better allies to women and non-binary people in the community. However, it is open to people of all genders.

For all the details, see the information page, which links to a Google Forms page that you can use to apply.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
2015-05-01 03:47 pm
Entry tags:

New journal!

So, I'm starting to feel kind of weird about intermingling my video posts with things like "this person who was important to me just died"; if you want to see my trying to post a video a day of me singing a song (sometimes by me, sometimes by other people; sometimes with cats, sometimes without), follow [personal profile] tim_plays.

I will of course continue posting here, such as when people die or when I have feels.
tim: Solid black square (black)
2015-04-30 07:25 pm

Paul Hudak, 1952-2015

Paul Hudak died of leukemia yesterday. Paul was a founding member of the Haskell Committee, and as such, instrumental in creating the programming language that shaped the course of my professional life for 15 years. He was the primary author of the "History of Haskell" paper (PDF), which is a beautiful look at the history of both a set of ideas and the set of people who nurtured and developed those ideas.

I didn't know Paul well, but of course, I took it for granted that he would be one of those people I would keep running into if I kept going to programming languages conferences. When you go to the same academic conference almost every year, you start thinking of the group of people you see there as a family of sorts... with, of course, closer relatives, more distant ones, and the few you awkwardly tiptoe around. In professional communities, as in families, you lose people, but it's never expected -- especially not when somebody is only 62. Especially not, in my case, when it's a person who I was riding a Ferris wheel in Sweden with seven months ago. I knew he had been seriously ill, but at the time I thought he seemed to be recovering. He was, as I recall, quiet, but over dinner, listened to my story of how I left academia without passing judgment on it or me.

I won't implore you all to thank people whose work has meant something to you for it while they're still alive, because after all, we all know why we don't usually do that. It's awkward. Instead I'll just quote from Paul's book The Haskell School of Expression (an intro to programming in Haskell through computer art and music):
Programming, in its broadest sense, is problem solving. It begins when we look out into the world and see problems we want to solve, problems that we think can and should be solved using a digital computer. Understanding the problem well is the first--and probably the most important--step in programming, because without that understanding we may find ourselves wandering aimlessly down a dead-end alley, or worse, down a fruitless alley with no end. "Solving the wrong problem" is a phrase often heard in many contexts, and we certainly don't want to be victims of that crime. So the first step in programming is answering the question, "What problem am I trying to solve?"
I've been down many of those endless alleys in my time as a programmer, but I think it's safe to say that I've avoided some of them because of the work that Paul did and inspired others to do.

Edited to add:
memorial article in the Yale Daily News; highlights:

“He is the most complete person I have ever seen, embodying qualities that you don’t believe can coexist … extremely kind, patient, gentle yet also super sharp, smart, and creative, and also highly eloquent, and totally cool,” CS professor Zhong Shao said. “He has made enormous impact on so many people in different walks of his life, but most of all, he, by himself, is the best role model which all of us all strive to become. He has certainly influenced me in a very profound way, not just career wise but also how to be a great person.”


"During his tenure as department chair from 1999 to 2005, Hudak made an important effort to expand the CS’s diversity, hiring four female senior female professors to a department that had existed for nearly three decades without a single tenured woman, according to CS professor Julie Dorsey."