tim: Solid black square (black)
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)
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:
obituary
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.”

and

"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."
tim: Tim with rainbow hat (pic#148316)


Photo taken by me in London, December 2006

I take this moment to remember Debra Boyask (of many nicknames, [livejournal.com profile] badasstronaut and Teacake being two of them), who died two years ago today on April 23, 2013. I have thought of Debra every day since then. I am far from the only person about whom the same is probably true. She left behind a trail of material reminders, such as her comics; her friends from the UK comics scene made a memorial comic for her. I have a pile of mix CDs she made for me, though the one she titled "Tech Sex in Space" has the most memorable cover.


Two robots making sweet, sweet love

I wrote about Debra's life, at least as I knew it, when she died. There is, of course, nothing new to say about her life that couldn't have been said then. But what does change and grow after somebody dies is memory -- that is, other people's memories of them.

In my current period of rapid personal growth and change, I remember my previous such period: the end of 2006 and beginning of 2007. For me, those memories are all organized around Debra. I ask myself: "Should I make this about me? Somebody, after all, is dead." But if I didn't make it about me, I'd be doing a disservice to Debra's memory, to my memory of her, to the only thing I have direct control over that keeps her in some sense alive. To be true to those memories, I have to be as personal as I can, in my thoughts if not in my writing.



I had known Debra online for five years when we met in person, but when we finally did, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't expect that we would end up in bed in her house in Bristol, a house whose interior will always represent safety and liberation in my mind.
Stairs with a deep red flowered carpet

I didn't expect that neither her life nor mine would ever be the same again as a result. It's fortunate that sexual liberation can happen at any age. I was 25 at the time and she was 40, but I think we both experienced quite a lot of it all of a sudden, in ways that had an enduring influence on both of our lives even if our on-again/off-again romantic relationship was not enduring. (Our friendship was, up till the end, and the eventual flickerings in and out of our romance never did any lasting harm to our friendship.)

I can't speak for Debra as to what I meant to her, and don't wish to. What she meant to me was this: she was the first person I was intimate with who -- I thought -- saw me for who I really was. In fact, she was possibly the only person I've been intimate with where I felt like I was truly present, and that she was truly present with me. There were ups and downs, mostly due to me having unresolved issues (still not resolved) that make it hard for me to be present for anybody (which is also the main reason why my other relationships didn't go well; I'm neither blaming my other partners for how things went nor absolving them completely here). But when it was good, I felt like I was dealing lightning.

This is, of course, personal. But as I said in the beginning, I feel like to not be personal about it is to be untrue to who Debra was, particularly who she was to me but not only who she was to me. Debra chose Kate Bush's song "Feel It" as one of the songs for her funeral, or at least I assume she chose it because it's not a song you would choose for anyone else's funeral. And she was bad-ass for choosing it -- [I am informed that Debra did not choose the song, but still, someone who knows her well must have.] a song about sex, love, meaning and connection that I appreciate more now than when I first heard it then.

"God, but you're beautiful, aren't you?
Feel your warm hand walking around"


I'm sad to say that when I knew Debra I wasn't entirely ready to feel it, yet, not everything, anyway. But she was a person who came into my life by chance and gave me what I needed in order to start trying. I like to think I returned the favor, but of course, I'll really never know; not knowing is all right, though, because my memory of her is more than enough to hold.

"I won't pull away, my passion always wins
So keep on a-moving in, keep on a-tuning in"




A rainbow above a roof, with a diagonal perspective
Photo taken by Debra, January 14, 2007

When I got the news about Debra, I was reading Facebook in the Mozilla Vancouver office, looking for a distraction but not expecting the one that came to me. I emailed my mentor to say what had happened and that I was taking the rest of the day off, went outside and walked down the Vancouver waterfront, not quite aware of either my surroundings or the thoughts in my head. I remember that I ended up at Little Sister's and bought a rainbow umbrella to remember her by, because of the time when we were driving in the countryside around Bristol and we were having an intense, left-brained conversation about gender, queerness, and identity and suddenly a rainbow appeared in the sky like a sign that the important stuff wasn't the ideas stuff.

But on that day, and for the month that followed, I couldn't really feel the grief, except maybe once or twice after listening to Neko Case's song "South Tacoma Way" on repeat for a while. I won't say I'm feeling it all now, either. My own inability to fully feel her loss compounded the pain of losing her.

Somehow, the only picture I could find of the two of us together was one she took of our shadows somewhere in the Columbia River Gorge, when she visited me in Portland in December 2008/January 2009. The icon I used for this post is also from a picture she took of me during that trip (which was the next-to-last time we saw each other in person).

And while I don't think Debra would have liked it (our musical tastes didn't overlap a whole lot), I also think of her when I listen to the Mountain Goats' song "Matthew 25:21":
you were a presence full of light upon this earth
And I am a witness to your life and to its worth
It's three days later when I get the call
And there's nobody around to break my fall


Oh yeah, and one more thing:

Fuck cancer.

Two shadows in the snow
Photo taken by Debra, January 2, 2009
tim: Solid black square (black)
[Content note: suicide.]

Two years ago, in April, I lost two friends. Igal was the first one.

Two years ago yesterday, Igal Koshevoy committed suicide. I didn't know Igal well, but I knew him well enough to wish that I'd gotten to know him well enough to know why. What I wrote on the section of my home page that I dearly hope to never have to update again is this:

"I also wish to remember Igal Koshevoy, who died in 2013. I knew Igal as the face behind the Portland Functional Programming Group, which was a minor but important part of what kept me feeling connected to a bigger community when I lived in Portland. He set an example of how to run groups that welcome and include everyone. Igal committed suicide, and I wish that he could have been as kind to himself as he seemed to be to everybody else."

If you haven't heard the Mountain Goats' song "The Coroner's Gambit" [direct MP3 link -- same audio is embedded below, and sorry about the autoplay at first, which I think I fixed now] before, I recommend listening to this someplace where crying is acceptable. Like I said, I don't understand; but I think I understand a little better because of this song.

May we all be a little bit kinder to each other and to ourselves.

tim: 2x2 grid of four stylized icons: a bus, a light rail train, a car, and a bicycle (public transportation)
Saturday, four days ago, I flew from Vancouver to Minneapolis, spent my layover chatting with my dear friend ADB who had come out to the airport to meet me, and then flew to London on a red-eye. (But not before ending my 31-month streak of never getting either groped or pornoscanned in an airport; there was only one checkpoint open at MSP that Saturday night, with only a scanner option. I had been planning to opt out if that happened, but at the last minute I decided I didn't want a random cis person touching me. In any case, I couldn't think of a better reason to end the streak.)

Sunday, I arrived in London feeling like a zombie, since I'd only slept for about four hours on the plane, if that. Plan A had been to go to a coffee shop for a few hours and noodle around pointlessly on the Internet, I mean catch up on work, I mean... In any case, my laptop was almost dead and the power adapter I'd bought at the airport wasn't grounded, which of course I didn't notice when buying it, in my zombified state. So I collected all my belongings and headed down the road to the Superdrug, where I bought another adapter. Nope, that one wasn't grounded either, and so I embarked on a long, long journey to the Apple store in Covent Garden to get the "world traveler kit". I ended up finding out just how long it can take me to find the Covent Garden market starting out from the Covent Garden tube stop (answer: a long time), and by the time I got back to the coffee shop where I'd planned to meet [livejournal.com profile] jasonelvis, he was waiting there.

After dinner with Jason, Tracey, and their adorable three-year-old, we all agreed that I'd want to collapse... except instead, Jason and I stayed up for a while talking about Debra. I was able to put my tiredness aside, because getting time to talk about her with someone who knew her the way I did was really important to me and meant a lot.

Monday, we accumulated more people and headed out to Bath in various cars. We went to a park and (unexpectedly) saw hot air balloons take off, then Indian take-out food was had and silly TV was watched.

And then, Tuesday, the big event. Prefaced by hat shopping with the three of us guys in our little entourage, since we'd been told that Debra wanted the funeral to reflect her Jewish heritage, though it wouldn't be entirely traditional. So part of that was that the men would cover their heads, and the women would too if they wanted to. That was fine, but none of us had hats. Then it turns out to be difficult to find a funeral-appropriate hat in May, but the clearance rack at Debenhams saved the day.

Fully equipped with hats, we drove the 45 minutes to Bristol and got to the chapel and cemetery, in South Bristol, a bit early but not too early. I met various people who I'd only known from their LiveJournal comments before, and before we knew it, we were being called in for the service. The opening music, "Good Morning Starshine", let us know that this wasn't going to be an entirely traditional funeral. Debra wasn't a traditional person, so that was appropriate.

There were several eulogies, including one delivered by Jason, which captured the playful, caring, bum-joke-loving Debra who I knew. But the moments I remember most clearly were actually the music: Kate Bush's "Feel It" in the middle, and Lemon Jelly's "Space Walk" at the end. Someone had posted a link to "Space Walk" on Debra's Facebook wall soon after she died, and I listened to it in my apartment. Hearing it again at the end of the service took me back to that confused, surreal state.

We milled out to the grave site, which was facing out on a hillside with a really nice view of the river and the green hills beyond. I thought to myself that maybe someday, years from now, I would have some reason to be back in England again, and I would rent a bike and ride from Bristol up to the cemetery; it would be a nice ride. And they laid her in her grave, in a wicker casket, which seemed very fitting.

A group of us went to a pub nearby for lunch afterward, and comics that Debra had been involved in making got passed around; I got to look at some I hadn't seen before. Then we headed to Debra's house to pay our respects to the family and such friends as were still there. Talking to Debra's mother and stepfather, I found myself struggling for words; I found it hard to explain what Debra and I were to each other, and resorted, as so many queer folks do, to the language of "friends". Maybe it's something to do with that whole queer thing of not being able to assume there's a framework your relationships will fit into; maybe it's something to do with how none of it really makes sense if you can't assume the other person understands the notion of deep, meaningful, partially computer-mediated relationships. Probably some of both.

Debra's last LiveJournal post was about hummus. There are worse things one's last LiveJournal post could be about. Or rather... the last one I can see; due to me moving from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth, I'm no longer able to see a lot of her posts that I was able to see before, which is a little sad; I would have liked to re-read her posts from around the first time we met in person, especially.

And then the next morning, Jason did what only a true friend would do and drove me to the airport bus stop at 5:45 in the morning, and eventually I made it back to Vancouver, a place I can't lay any permanent claim on.

"well, it could be love
Or it could be just lust but it will be fun
It will be wonderful"


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Debra, aka [livejournal.com profile] badasstronaut, was the first person I added as a friend on LiveJournal who I didn't already know, back in 2002. This was mainly on the basis of both of us having Nina Paley in our interests list. I met her in person when I visited her in Bristol, England in 2006 while I was interning at Microsoft Research. Unexpectedly, we became lovers. That didn't last (living on different continents will do that, though for a brief period, things were such that I actually considered moving to the UK), but we always remained friends. She visited me once when I lived in Portland, and I visited her twice more in Bristol; the last time I saw her was a year ago when she was visiting New York City with her wife Kris, and I flew out to NYC to see them.

Debra was creative, intellectually probing, and very funny. She made indie comics and was an educational developer and university lecturer; in that order (at least as I saw her). Unfortunately, most of her comics don't seem to be online, except for a few. She started out as a hairdresser before she went to grad school, and at one point planned to write a Ph.D dissertation on hairdressers' professional culture (but, like me, she never finished her Ph.D). When she lived in New Zealand, she also did feminist and other political activism.

She liked robots and bunnies and had a great sense of style. One of the times with her that I remember best was when I visited her after going to ICFP in Edinburgh, in September 2009; we went to a bed and breakfast in Hay-on-Wye for two nights and went kayaking and, one night, sat in the pub attached to the B&B drinking scrumpy (or at least I did) and listening to some guys literally talk about how to "make Britain great again".

There's so much more, but nothing I could say would be adequate. For the past year I've known that Debra was ill with breast cancer; she didn't seem to want to talk about it much, preferring to go on as normal, so I generally didn't press the issue. We did exchange emails on the subject of top surgery; rather than having a mastectomy with breast reconstruction, she wanted to have a male chest reconstructed so that she could present a more genderqueer appearance. She wrote to me back in September 2012:
Strangely, I am quite excited about it! It's funny - some women I've
talked to say they'd be most worried about the hair loss (what???) and
losing their bust. Those were the least of my concerns, and if I come
through all this successfully I feel I will be able to celebrate with
new clothes and almost a new persona. And I might take up running...


I will miss her so much. I know that her wife Kris and her mother took good care of her over the past year, and she wasn't lacking for support. Even so, I wish I'd been a bit more in touch with her instead of assuming she would prefer to be left alone.

This is the one picture of her I could find that I took (I have more, but am disorganized with my data), on that trip to Hay-on-Wye in 2009):
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
On Friday, I got news via email that Bonnie Tinker died in a bike accident in Virginia. Bonnie was a queer activist and peace activist in Portland; she was also a pillar of the Multnomah Monthly Meeting of Friends, which I've been attending irregularly since last year. She was 61 years old. I didn't really know Bonnie, but her involvement in the meeting, as an advocate for queer rights as a social justice issue and otherwise, was always one of the things that made me feel I was in the right place.

The kind of accident that killed Bonnie is so common that it has a name: the "right hook". In her case, a truck overtook her on the left while she was riding straight, and struck her when it turned right in front of her.

Unlike some types of accidents, right hooks are completely preventable: they don't happen when cyclists ride in the center of a lane where right turns are permitted. This doesn't mean that all the responsibility for preventing these accidents lies with cyclists. Motorists have to cooperate too, by respecting cyclists' legal right to occupy the center of the lane when keeping to the right would be unsafe.

If you ride a bike, you need to know the following information; it could save your life. It's natural to feel that it's safer to ride close to the curb all the time, but because drivers (unless extremely drunk or unskilled) don't hit objects that are in front of them, in many situations it's safest to ride in the center of the lane where you will be seen. When riding in a substandard width lane (that is, a lane where a car can't pass a bike safely), riding in the center of the lane communicates your intent (to continue riding straight) to other drivers, just as when you're driving a car, driving in the center of the lane communicates your intent to continue occupying the lane.

If you drive a car, the following is your moral responsibility as well as your legal responsibility: if a cyclist is riding in front of you, wait until it's safe to pass and then pass in the adjacent lane (possibly meaning waiting for a break in oncoming traffic and passing in the oncoming traffic lane), the same way you would always pass a slower vehicle.

When you honk at a cyclist, try to run a cyclist off the road, or otherwise make a cyclist feel unsafe riding in the center of the lane, you could kill someone -- indirectly, when they expose themselves to danger from right-turning vehicles because they wish to avoid angering drivers by riding in the lane.

I don't think Bonnie had to die. I know that cyclists have died because drivers have refused to accommodate cyclists who try to ride in the safest way it's possible to ride a bicycle: vehicularly.

The following is from John Forester's book _Effective Cycling_ (sixth edition, MIT Press, 1993; accessible through Google Books), starting at p. 313.



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tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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