winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2017-03-01 11:57 pm

Welp. That's been a long time coming

For a few months now I’ve been increasingly convinced I have ADHD. I forget what exactly got me started thinking along those lines, but the more I started digging the more convinced I became. ((Then, in my usual impostor syndromey way, I started wondering if I “really” have it— that is, focusing on whether my internal psychological experiences match those of folks who have it, or whether I merely fit the external descriptions but am “really” just absentminded, bored, stupid, fill-in-the-blank. (Am I the only person who has metaphysical crises about the qualia of identity/diagnosis labels?) Luckily I found some folks willing to talk about their internal experiences and what convinced them that they had it. And, frankly, those descriptions sounded even more spot-on than any of the external descriptions I’d found all over the internet.))

This monday I went in for official screening. I’d already filled out a questionnaire thing for them, so this was for a computer test and a one-on-one with the doc. The “test” was more like a peripheral vision test or a psychological experiment than a test per se: press the button when you see a foo but not when you see a bar, etc. I’ve done plenty of timing-based psych experiments before, but this one was brutal. Unlike the usual random spacing of stimuli, the spacing for this test was like explicitly designed to be as aggravating as possible. As someone who’s good at videogames, not being able to “win” was awful. Yes, I know it’s the sort of test you’re supposed to fail, but still. If there were any doubt left by this point, just taking the test would’ve convinced me. When the doc and I went over the results, I did indeed fail with flying colors. Off the charts for one of the metrics ::chagrin::

So, yeah. Started meds yesterday and —like every other time I anguished over whether I “really” had something or not— the difference is like night and day. I really should learn to trust my self-diagnoses more.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2017-01-22 11:28 am
Entry tags:

I hate Paris

This past week I’ve been in Paris for POPL and... it has not been pleasant. Generally I love traveling, and I was looking forward to visiting mainland Europe for the first time, but

I hate Paris.

Like, everything about it. This city is entirely opposed to anything resembling accommodation for disabled folks. And not just the city, but the university venue as well.

As mentioned in my previous, standing in place for a long time fucks with my circulation. There was nowhere to sit in the room where they served coffee. The “lunch” was standing tables only with, again, not even benches around the edges of the room. The one working/meeting room they had (which actually had chairs) was only open on the workshop days and got locked down before the talks finished for the day. And the library, the only other place we found to sit, is entirely closed on weekends.

In addition, the venue for the workshops was on the second floor. Technically they had elevators, but (a) the closest one was out of order, and (b) all the others were unusable because they locked the hallway doors around the workshops, thereby prohibiting access to the venue area from these other elevators. While I myself don’t have issues with stairs (yet), one of my friends here does.

Exacerbating this absurd refusal to accommodate anyone who may need to sit or take a lift, everything is noisy. I have sensory overload issues, and while it’s usually not too onerous to deal with, evidently the Parisians refuse to do any sort of soundproofing or baffling. None of the ceilings use acoustic tile, floors typically aren’t carpeted, walls are thin, and every surface is sound-reflectingly hard. Plus many of the rooms have harsh and noisy lights (yes, I can hear lights). The constant assault is exhausting. I have to wear my noise-cancelling headphones to bed in order to be able to get any sleep. The only quiet places we found were the library (closed on weekends), the working/meeting room (locked most of the time), and one coffeeshop (thankfully decorated with wood).

All the rampant ableism aside, it’s impossible to eat here. Vegetarian-wise it’s about like the early 1990s in the US: often you can get a salad, and if you’re lucky they might have one meat-free entree. Gods have mercy on you if you’re also sensitive to wheat. I’m used to conference lunches being hit-or-miss, but this year was especially bad. Of the days I even tried going, they only had vegetarian food once. And according to folks who went on other days, they mostly only had hors d'oeuvres rather than an actual meal.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2017-01-08 01:16 pm

ANN: containers


The containers package contains efficient general-purpose implementations of various basic immutable container types. The declared cost of each operation is either worst-case or amortized, but remains valid even if structures are shared.

Changes since (2016-08-31)

The headline change is adding merge and mergeA for Data.IntMap. The versions for Data.Map were introduced in, so this change restores parity between the interfaces. With this in place we hope this version will make it into GHC 8.2.

Other changes include:

  • Add instances for Data.Graph.SCC: Foldable, Traversable, Data, Generic, Generic1, Eq, Eq1, Show, Show1, Read, and Read1.
  • Add lifted instances (from Data.Functor.Classes) for Data.Sequence, Data.Map, Data.Set, Data.IntMap, and Data.Tree. (Thanks to Oleg Grenrus for doing a lot of this work.)
  • Properly deprecate functions in Data.IntMap long documented as deprecated.
  • Rename several internal modules for clarity. Thanks to esoeylemez for starting this process.
  • Make Data.Map.fromDistinctAscList and Data.Map.fromDistinctDescList more eager, improving performance.
  • Plug space leaks in Data.Map.Lazy.fromAscList and Data.Map.Lazy.fromDescList by manually inlining constant functions.
  • Add lookupMin and lookupMax to Data.Set and Data.Map as total alternatives to findMin and findMax.
  • Add (!?) to Data.Map as a total alternative to (!).
  • Avoid using deleteFindMin and deleteFindMax internally, preferring total functions instead. New implementations of said functions lead to slight performance improvements overall.


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2016-12-12 10:29 pm

Familiarity: You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means

I ran into this quote recently,

“We believe we are seeking happiness in love, but what we are really after is familiarity.”

The assertion sounded interesting enough, so I followed the link. In the rest of that discussion De Botton goes on to claim that what we are actually seeking in our adult romances is the same sort of dynamic we had with our parents, so we turn down perfectly good partners to seek out troubling ones with whom we can recreate our parental troubles. While I’ve no doubt this describes some people, and might even be willing to believe it describes a plurality, it most certainly does not describe all. And the unwaveringly universalizing way he makes this claim is patently offensive to those of us it excludes.

There are numberless people whose parental relationships were/are defined by abuse. To coyly describe these relationships as “[love] entwined with other, more destructive dynamics” is to normalize and erase the physical, sexual, and psychological violence we have endured. To boldly declare that, “We are constrained in our love choices by what we learned of love as children”, is to say that those who were abused as children are incapable of making healthy decisions as adults. To bombastically assert that, “Without [replicating our parental relationships], we may simply not be able to feel passionate and tender with someone”, is to say that passion and tenderness can only be felt through (re)enacting such violence as we endured as children. These claims are irresponsible and disgusting.

I, for one, have no desire to recreate the abuse of my childhood. Indeed, the surest way to end any relationship with me (romantic or otherwise) is to head even vaguely in that direction. And yet, I most assuredly do feel passion and tenderness and love. If those sensations were ‘learned’, they were most certainly not learned from my parents. What De Botton is doing is gaslighting those of us with abusive childhoods. Like most gaslighting it's a two-pronged assault: simultaneously denying the history of abuse, while also denying the healthiness of the present. De Botton is continuing the long tradition of blaming victims for the abuse they’ve suffered, lest one be forced to recognize the lie inherent in the fable of universal parental love. The lie must not be admitted, for to do so is to admit the truth that abusive parents exist and cause harm in virtue of a society that refuses to stop them or to protect its least powerful members from them. To admit the prevalence of parental abuse is to admit one's own culpability for not working to stop it. People will do much to escape blame, but they will do anything to escape blame for what they already feel guilty about.

Perhaps, in spite of De Botton, there is still some kernel of truth to the idea that it is familiarity more than happiness that we seek in love. Cognitively speaking, while excitement is valued in the short term, in the long term contentment is valued more. It's not too far a stretch to blur contentment/familiarity and excitement/happiness; so, to the extent that can be done, one might be able to substantiate the claim with data from cognitive and psychological research. But any further exploration of the idea should be done far away from De Botton's love affair with Freud by gas light.

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2016-11-15 01:28 am

Three ineffectual strategies for dealing with trauma and pain

The last week has been challenging for all of us. In the depths of my own fear and uncertainty, I reached for one of my favorite books —Pema Chödrön’s Comfortable with Uncertainty— and opened to a passage at random. On friday, a friend of mine asked how I’ve been able to deal with it all. I told him about the passage, and he (a non-buddhist) found it helpful in dealing with his own pain, so I wanted to share more broadly.

Before getting to the passage, I think it’s important for people to recognize that this pain we are feeling is a collective trauma. This is not our day-to-day pain, not our usual suffering. Everyone develops habits and skills for addressing the typical discomforts of life, but those skills are often inapplicable or ineffective for recovering from truly traumatic events. When someone is in a car wreck, or attacked, or raped, or abruptly loses a job or loved one— we recognize these things as traumas. We recognize that these events take some extra work to recover from. In the aftermath of the election I have seen many of the symptoms of trauma in the people around me. Depression, hypervigilance, difficulty concentrating, short tempers, and so on. When trauma hits, our usual coping mechanisms often fail or go haywire. A drink or two to unwind, turns into bleary drunkenness every night. Playing games to let go, turns into escapism to avoid thinking. Solitude, turns into reclusion. A healthy skepticism, turns into paranoia. If we do not recognize traumas for what they are, it becomes all too easy to find ourselves with even worse problems. Recognition is necessary for forming an appropriate response.

Now, the passage. As humans we have three habitual methods for relating to suffering. All three are ineffectual at reducing that suffering. These three ineffectual strategies are: attacking, indulging, and ignoring. And I’ve seen all three in great quantities in all the OpEd pieces floating around over the past week.

By “attacking” Pema Chödrön means not just lashing out, attacking Trump’s supporters or their ideals, but also all the ways we attack ourselves: We condemn ourselves, criticize ourselves for any indulgence, pity ourselves to the point of not getting out of bed. This strategy shows up in all those articles criticizing us for not having interpreted the polls correctly, or chastising us for not voting, or condemning the way the internet has formed these echo-chamber bubbles, and so on. But all this self-flagellation, all this beating ourselves up, does nothing to heal our pain. Now we suffer not only from our fears of what’s to come, but also because “it’s all our fault”. We refuse to “let ourselves off easy”, so whenever someone tries to address our pain we attack them and beat them away, protecting our pain because we feel like we deserve it.

Indulging is just as common. Though we are haunted by self-doubt, we condone our behavior. We say “I don’t deserve this discomfort. I have plenty of reasons to be angry or sleep all day.” We justify our pain to the point of turning it into a virtue and applauding ourselves. This strategy shows up in all those articles that relish in the details of how bad things will become, or congratulating ourselves for saying something like this would happen. But again, by cherishing our pain and presenting it as something to be praised, we are preventing ourselves from healing. Noone wants to give up something they cherish, nor give up on all the attention and sympathy they are lavished with.

Ignoring is no less common. “Ignoring” means not just refusing to acknowledge our pain and fear, but also pretending it doesn’t exist, dissociating, spacing out, going numb, acting on autopilot, or any of the other ways to try to keep our suffering out of sight and out of mind. This strategy is advocated by all those articles talking about how things actually aren’t that bad, or how this is just business as usual, or how it’ll all get better once the mid-term elections happen. While ignoring seems effective in the short term, it does nothing to address the suffering you feel. In addition to not healing that initial wound, it creates more pain as we inevitably force ourselves into tighter and tighter spaces in order to keep it out of mind.

There is an alternative to these three futile strategies. The enlightened strategy is to try fully experiencing whatever you’ve been resisting— without exiting in your habitual way. Become inquisitive about your habits. Recognize when you are pushing your suffering away, or embracing it, or denying it. Become inquisitive about your suffering. What is it, exactly, that you are denying? Why does it feel so urgent to push it away? Why does it feel so necessary to cling to it? Stop trying to justify your feelings, stop trying to explain them. Start instead to look at them, to see them for what they really are. Ask why it is they hurt, what part of your ego they compromise, what ideals they belie.

The passage on the three futile strategies follows a koan about “heaven and hell”. From a buddhist perspective, “hell” is not a place, it is all the feelings of pain and fear and suffering we experience. Nor is “heaven” a place, but rather all our feelings of gratitude and joy and understanding. Thus, the buddhist does not say “hell is bad and heaven is good” nor “get rid of hell and just seek heaven”. Rather, one should approach all things with an open mind, greeting both heaven and hell with that openness. In her words,

Only with this kind of equanimity can we realize that no matter what comes along, we’re always standing in the middle of a sacred space. Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know.

I find these words powerfully healing. It is healing to remember that no matter where we are or what befalls us, our life is a blessing, and in virtue of that blessing our bodies and the places we move through are sacred spaces. The sacred is not something which exists without us, but something which is created from within. Moreover, it is healing to step away from questions like “what did I do to deserve this?” and instead remember to ask what it is we can learn from the experience.

I have endured many traumas in my life, and I half expected the election outcome, but still it felt like a kick in the chest. This wound brought back all my darkest habits. Once I recovered from the shock enough to begin the rituals of healing and self-care, I reflected on the question of why this particular wound hurt so bad. In my experience (and not just because I’m buddhist), deep emotional pain always stems from some threat to one’s ego; so what part of my ego is on the line? For me, the reason the election hurt so much is because I had become complacent in believing that the world is steadily becoming a more just place and believing that people are by-and-large fundamentally good. With the election of Obama, the passing of the ACA, the supreme court ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, and so on, I think a lot of us on the progressive side have been susceptible to those beliefs. The election hurt so much, for me, because it forced the recognition that it’s not just the legacy of systemic institutionalized hatred we must fight, but that over a quarter of the population actively supports the worst extremes of that hatred. Yes, the election itself was offensive. Yes, I fear for my life and the lives of those close to me. But the real root of the pain itself, the reason it hurt so bad, is this refutation of those optimistic beliefs about humanity and the path towards justice. Realizing that this was the root cause of my pain did a lot to help me process it and move on. It also gave a healthy way to shift focus from the pain itself, to something actionable. Having experienced the pain, I can accept it. And having learned what it has to teach me, I know what I must do.

So sit with your pain, and try to experience it fully. Stop pushing it away. Stop embracing it. Stop beating yourself up over it. Approach it with an open mind and let it pass through you. And, finally, ask yourself what you can learn from it.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-10-23 06:35 pm

Is commitment a sin?

Life has been good overall. I’ve been wanting to write about various happenings of late (e.g., my trip to Nara for ICFP), but I’ve been terribly busy. Sure, sure, everyone’s busy. But no, my problem is that I have a terrible habit of overcommitting. For the longest time I’d always chalked it up to a personal failing; but lately I’m thinking that’s not quite right. Our society has a way of making us think whatever problems we face must be due to “personal failings”. One of the classic examples here is the Norman Door. But another classic example is the way we blame people with chronic conditions for the ableism they face.

So, what is a “Norman Door”? They’re called that because the problem was first (or most famously) highlighted by Don Norman. Have you ever had a door where you always pull when you’re supposed to push, or always push when you’re supposed to pull? Everyone has, and yet whenever we encounter them we always resort to blaming ourselves. Doors are such simple devices, surely any problems we have must be on us, right? But the problem isn’t us; the problem is the door. We discover how to operate the world around us by making use of affordances: flat/horizontal surfaces afford sitting and putting things on; handles afford grabbing and pulling; vertical surfaces afford pushing and leaning. So when public buildings don’t want people to sit on their ledges, they add bumps so they’re not smooth. When airplanes have surfaces they don’t want you to sit or put your feet on, they make them slanted so things don’t stay put. And a well-designed door is transparent about whether it should be pushed (plates or crashbars) or pulled (handles, especially vertical ones), and transparent about which side of the door needs operating (rather than, say, putting a doorknob in the center of the door). Those doors you can never get right are so difficult to deal with, not because you’re an idiot, but because they are poorly designed: the door’s affordances say to do one thing, when in fact you must do the opposite.

Poor design is ubiquitous, and I could go on all day about it. But the problem of Norman Doors isn’t just a problem of poor design, it’s a problem of social expectations. The problem isn’t just that these doors are annoying. It’s also that we blame ourselves for the failings of their designers. It’s also that this continuous low-grade annoyance exerts a continuous low-grade cost— in time, in flow, in emotional reserves. We get disrupted, frustrated, exhausted, and then we feel bad for not “measuring up” to society’s standards; and we reinforce that guilt by shaming others whenever they fall into the same traps. This is the same trick we play on minoritized people and people with chronic conditions. These people have to pay constant low-grade costs to overcome the iniquities of a society designed against them, but then we train them to blame themselves for encountering those injustices at all, let alone for not having the reserves to go on to lead “a productive life” after being exhausted by microaggressions.

Yes, I have problems overcommitting. But is it a personal failing? I’m not so sure. The problem is less one of not having enough time in an absolute sense, but rather a problem of not having enough spoons. I long ago got used to the constant low-grade costs of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and saneism. But try as I might, I’ve not been able to get used to the costs of ableism. The sexism et al. was far worse in Bloomington than they are here in Mountain View. But from what I’ve seen so far, academia is far more amenable to folks with my sort of physical disabilities than industry is. It’s not even that Google is bad, per se; and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a lot better than most of industry. But even if the grass is browner on the other side, that doesn’t make it green here. The goog is great about providing ergonomic support, and that helps a ton. But the food/wellness program is grossly pro-orthorexic, which means they’re terrible for my dietary needs: I have issues with low-electrolytes, and the whole “salt is bad m’kay” propaganda causes health problems. (Hint: salt is crucial for the proper functioning of neurons. Also for silly things like maintaining blood volume, and hence adequate blood pressure.) I can, of course, bring salt from home or make sure to have extra at breakfast and dinner; but there’s an ongoing cost for keeping extra vigilant about it.

One of the bigger and harder-to-address forms of ableism in industry is the requirement to be ever present. Office life is exhausting. The triggering of sensory hypersensitivity, and accusations “antisociality” for wearing sensory-dep headphones. The expectation to sit still at your desk all day, and judgment for getting up to move around every pomodoro. Being interrogated if you use your cane irregularly, or being invisibilized if you use it regularly. To say nothing of the extreme ubiquitous fat-shaming of California. Many days, I’d be fine to get stuff done if I could work from home, but it takes all my spoons just to be “present”. And after a whole day or a whole week of being “present” I don’t have any energy left to pursue my passions and ambitions. Is it my fault for “over”committing to these passions? Of daring to have ambitions outside of surviving capitalism? Or is it a systemic problem that forces disabled people like myself to absorb the costs of society’s failure to design for the whole variety of human bodies?

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-09-15 09:24 pm

Visiting Nara over the next week

I announced this on twitter a while back, but tomorrow I'm flying out to Nara Japan. I'll be out there all week for ICFP and all that jazz. It's been about a decade since last time I was in the Kansai region, and I can't wait. As I've done in the past, if you want to meet up for lunch or dinner, just comment below (or shoot me a tweet, email, etc).

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2016-06-23 05:40 pm
Entry tags:

Dissertating summary #1

Lots of yak shaving to work around issues with iuthesis-alt.cls. One in particular is that that class overrides \title to do gross stuff with the raw value you give it, but that gross stuff is necessary style for the final pdf. The big problem here is that that gross stuff means you can't use \@title anywhere else like for setting the pdftitle. Originally I was using my entitlement.sty package to get my hands on the raw input to \title; but there's a bug where entitlement.sty also overrides that macro rather than hooking it properly. Changing it to hook properly has proved surprisingly difficult, so I just inlined the relevant parts. Still ran into issues because AMSmath's \uppercasenonmath (used by iuthesis-alt.cls) doesn't evaluate things far enough. Managed to fix it with judicious use of \expandafter.

Another yak shaving issue is that the final pdf must be double spaced (okay fine) but certain chunks need to be single spaced. I've been using setspace.sty to switch the line spread as appropriate, but kept running into issues where there'd be way too much spacing whenever switching the line spread. Finally dug into the source of setspace.sty to see how it works, and managed to find out where the extra spacing was coming from. Things look much better now.

In non-yakshaving work, I wrote up the section on strong normalization of type reduction. This is the easiest of the proofs, but at least I got some content written! Also, I think I did a better job of motivating why this proof matters than in my qual paper.

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2016-06-23 04:17 pm

Self-improvement goals, overcoming perfectionism, and dissertating

This year's self-improvement goal was to get back into blogging regularly. Part of that goal was just to get back into writing regularly; the other part was specifically to publish more regularly.

I've done fairly well on the first half, actually. I'd hoped to do better, but then all year I've had to deal with spoon-draining circumstances, so I've probably done about as well as I can without sacrificing my health. One of my other self-improvement goals has been to take my health seriously, to listen to my body rather than pushing it beyond its limits. I'm on-track for improving at both of these, I just need to stop beating myself up over it.

For the second half, the publishing bit, that I've done poorly. I'd like to blame the spoon vortex here too, but really I think the biggest problem is my perfectionism. Perfectionism greatly amplifies the problem of lacking spoons: both the editing itself, as well as the emotional fallout of missing the mark or of having taken the entire day to hit it, both of these cost spoons. The real aim behind my goal to publish regularly wasn't to have more words to my name, but rather to “get out there” more, to be more productive in-and-of-itself rather than to have more products. So I've started thinking: the real target for this self-improvement goal should not be publishing regularly, but rather should be (working to) overcome perfectionism.

If perfectionism is a problem of fear, then the thing I must address is that fear. So how to do it? One of the suggestions in that article is to let yourself fail. Not to lower your unreasonable standards (the party-line for what to do), but rather to allow yourself to not meet those standards. One of my standards is to be thought provoking, and hence to focus overmuch on essays. To try and break free from this, I'm thinking to start posting summaries of my daily dissertation progress. A nanowrimo sort of thing, though without the focus on word-count per se. I've read a few articles suggesting one should start their day by summarizing the previous day's progress, but I've never tried it. So here goes nothing :)

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2016-06-15 03:12 am

Off to NYC for July 4th and LICS

Over the last few weeks I was interviewed for the Identity Function. The process was quite nice and got me thinking on a number of things. Some of them I may well flesh out into blog posts once I get the time. Of course, that likely won't be until the autumn given everything else going on the next couple months.

I'll be in New York from 28 June through 10 July. The first couple days are for a PI meeting, then I'll get a four-day weekend before LICS, NLCS, and LOLA. Originally the plan was to take a quick trip to Sacramento that weekend for a friend's wedding. (The wedding's still on, but plans changed.) At least this way I'll get a chance to relax, rather than running all over the place. Of course this also means I'll be spending the 4th in NYC. Historically the 4th has been one of my favorite holidays, because it was one I've always spent with friends. I don't know that any of my readers are in NYC, but if you'll be around drop me a line. Or if you used to live there and know fun things to do that weekend, let me know! (Especially any quiet end-of-Pride things.)

Me and L set the date for our final move to the Bay Area: 20 July. And then I start at Google on the 25th. Between now and then: dissertating!!

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2016-06-04 10:25 pm

I got this critical theory textbook, can I trade it in for cat pictures?

I was emailing with a friend last night, telling her all these happy stories about me & L: our engagement, the courthouse wedding, all that jazz. And I got to thinking how I never seem to share happy stories online. Whenever I feel compelled to put stuff out there it's all doom and gloom, whether it's dealing with my personal issues or addressing political problems. And all that is important. My writing is all about trying to make room for me to exist in the world —but unfortunately that means bringing up the ugly I'm trying to survive and get space from in the first place.

But y'all must get a really skewed perspective on what I'm like in person. And that's sad. I mean, yeah, this stuff is always rattling around up there, but there's also all the good stuff. I sketched a few paras on why I talk less about the good stuff, but that's what I'm talking about. Once you get good at critical analysis, it can be hard to turn off. Like anything, you gotta beware of it taking over the way you see things. I gotta practice turning it off more often.

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2016-06-02 08:16 pm

selfies for soul shards

So, I’ve been doing this interview. They’re about ready to post it so, understandably enough, the interviewer asks for a head shot. Cue the panic.

I… I’m not so good with pictures. I love taking them, love seeing pictures of other folks, but when I’m in front of the lens… it’s not good times. I often tell folks, only half-joking, that I believe cameras steal souls. Not the whole thing at once, of course. (Of course!) Just slivers and shards, which grow back in time, or chips and chunks, which maybe don’t. When you tell it right, people don’t pry for details, don’t get upset and bully you into the shot, don’t tease with that dagger in your ribs all “friends” here, don’t chastise for ruining their fun; they know it’s a joke (they know it’s not a joke). But only when you tell it right.

But they do. Steal souls, I mean. If you’re ever in doubt, just hold a camera up to my face. Watch the eyes dull, the jaw slacken, rosy cheeks go sallow, the breathing still— not stop, stopping is abrupt, rupture is resistance, and resistance is a lifewell. Just still like an unused balloon discarded on the floor, no impending movement, no impeding movement. Deflated ragdoll corpse. Might as well take the fucking picture now. The soul has already gone. You better get what I paid for.

For the longest time I never quite knew why I hated pictures. By which I mean: I knew. In that way the body knows what the mind can’t admit.

There’s the family gatherings, the unending demand for circus performance. Stand up tall next to angry father! Show your smile with abusive mother! Oh you can stand closer than that! Ooh, ooh, hug your rapist! Yeah, like that, let’s see an embrace! Now for the group shot! And the solo shots! Did we get the pairs? Let’s do another set, why not! Now with Aunt Judy’s camera! Wait no, we forgot the hallway shots, gotta do them all over again! A soulless enumeration of all possible positions, like much of Marquis de Sade. Rolls and rolls of film, back when film was a thing. Like cellulose can replace the real family with something else. The day the first in our family bought a digital camera I cursed their invention, cursed the ever-hungry void of their unending memory. But no, that’s not where it started. That’s just the acid in an already raw wound.

I’d always supposed it started with mental illness. Danielle Vintschger talks about mental illness as becoming invisible, symptoms as a way of demanding to be seen. Her article resonates strongly within me, though I find her own in/visibility skewed at queer angles to mine. Growing up in that family, the last thing you want is to be visible. Being visible means being a target. The only way to survive an abusive childhood is by learning to become invisible. Pictures are dangerous. Pictures get you noticed. Pictures risk letting out the demon of truth you hide inside your flesh. Pictures risk showing something real. The most dangerous thing in a toxic environment is to expose anything real. The real is where you keep what’s sacred to you; and anything you value is a vector of attack. You must remain phlegmatically disinterested in all things. As soon as someone guesses what’s important to you they’ll break it. They will destroy it piece by piece, in front of you to make sure you watch, to make sure whenever you think of that shredded joy you think of them and their victory over you. But not just joy, any weakness any illness you must also hide. Muffle your tears into a pillow. Cut where it can’t be seen. When you have to break down, dissociate, divorce from reality, do it somewhere else, somewhere you can leave the body safe in your absence, somewhere noone can see those disquiet moments when you leave and when you return. Never leave pictures, pictures are evidence, and all evidence will be used against you.

There’s something else too besides visibility, something evil in pictures, some contagion that leaks out and seeps in through your eyes. Muslims know this. Or perhaps the evil is already inside you, and the image merely beckons it to surface. Wherever it is, you instinctually know you must not look. But you can’t keep others from looking, so the evil gets in them. It wasn’t until a couple years ago I began to question. Maybe my problem with pictures wasn’t only from mental illness. I only began to question because I began to look.

The evil lives not just in photographs but also in mirrors. It started slowly, unintentionally, out of the corner of my eye a glimpse. You can go thirty years without looking in a mirror. Shaving, brushing your teeth or hair, you never need the mirror. At most you only ever need parts not whole, like a masseuse uncovering singular limbs to avoid seeing the body. You notice the reflection because you can’t remember the last time you saw one. Did you know bathrooms contain mirrors? The first few glimpses you turn away, pretend not to see. But it’s startling, this other person in that tiny room with you. They seem to be ignoring you too, so that’s good. In time you make peace with your bathroom double. Some days you sit with them, both not looking, becoming used to the presence. Other days it’s easier: you each go about your business, not talking but knowing how to stay out of the other’s way. Until one day you forget the rules, you turn to talk and see… someone else. She’s a girl, your bathroom double. Kinda cute, you never expected that. How strange. You could’ve sworn she’d have a different face. Something more masculine, something more hideous. As if on cue her face begins to droop and swirl, bits melting into other bits, all come undone. You look away before it’s too late. The next few days she isn’t there. You kinda feel lonely, but also kinda feel relief. Eventually she comes back, in furtive glimpses. When she seems calmer, you sit silent with her, apologizing without words. The second time, you ask before you look. Over years —and it does take years— you build a tentative trust. You can look at her now. You’re not sure where the evil went, but you no longer need to hide from mirrors. You’re not sure anything requiring such powerful trust can ever be called “safe”, but maybe safe is something you can build.

It all makes sense now. Of course my hatred of photos is all tied up in dysphoria. (Of course!) But as I said: the body knows how to hide the things your mind can’t admit. Like it hid all those mirrors I never noticed.

Yes, I came to terms with being trans years upon years ago. But acceptance does not cure dysphoria. The longer I accepted being trans the deeper my dysphoria got, until the day I started correcting the hormone imbalance destroying my body and mind. The dysthymia and depression lifted immediately, but the longer-term psychological damage takes more time to recover. I was on HRT a year and a half, or so, before I started catching those first mirror glimpses. At three, I can look without the image going all melty. Sometimes, (sometimes,) I can look at photographs and not see the hideous thing I grew up with. Sometimes, (sometimes,) I think maybe pictures don’t always have to lie.

It is a mental illness this dysmorphia, this problem with reflections, this inability to see the self as others see it. It’s a hallmark of schizophrenia, the fear of portals consuming souls, the fear of what dangerous things lie beyond the looking glass. But it’s not just the schizoid, it also shows up in anxiety. My wife sometimes has problems with windows at night, they reflect you see. But it also shows up with eating disorders. But it also shows up with so many things. Which is why I cite Islam. The justification for the interdiction against images of humans is avoidance of idolatry, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s some other reason, something more they know. Islam also requires the immediate disposal of hair and fingernail trimmings; things which are uncanny, things which disturb and disgust when encountered unexpectedly.

The dysmorphia goes beyond dysphoria; which is to say, it’s not just being trans. I follow plenty of trans ladies who post the most gorgeous selfies. And while I do not know their minds, many post without comment so I can’t help but to think they do not suffer the same demons. But then, many others do post with comment. Selfies can be a form of radical self-love, an act of reclaiming the body that has been denied us so long, an act of resistance against the perpetual bombardment of messages telling us we’re ugly, telling us we’re not good enough, telling us we don’t have the right kind of shape. This need for self-love is not just for trans women, but also black women, but also disabled women, but also all women.

Sometimes I think, “I want this love. I deserve this love.” Then the world reminds me: pictures are dangerous. Living as a woman online is dangerous; especially as an outspoken woman, a difficult woman, a challenging woman. Clades like GG and 4chan seek out women like me for destruction. Pictures are evidence and all evidence will be used against you. I’ve spent my whole life trying to break away from my family, from the invisibility they instilled in me, from the perpetual need to annihilate the self. I need this love, but I know not where to find it. Taking pictures at all is hard enough, the idea of sharing them fills me with terror. I’ve spent my whole life breaking away from how others see my body. My whole life breaking away from the pain that body caused my mind. I know not how to love the body. Know not how to see the body as more than mere possession, how to see the body as the very self. Growing up I was taught the greatest sin is the love of self. And though I’ve discarded Christianity, it’s much harder to discard their commandment to hate thyself.

Sometimes I think, “I need this love.” But how does one overcome the terror?

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-05-17 07:37 am

PSA for depressive folks on the pellet form of HRT

Got depressed for a week or so just recently. Doing better now. No reason motivating the episode, just came out of nowhere— like the last time, a couple months back. Having lived with depression my whole life, there’s usually a reason; I mean, not an actual reason necessarily, but my mind will always find something to fixate on and call the reason. So the fact that it hasn’t these last couple times is strange in the extreme. As is the fact that the episodes have ended just as abruptly as they began. The first time around I was thinking the differences may be because of transitioning; depression is biochemical and changes as we age, so of course things’ll be different after upending your hormones.

But now I’m almost 100% certain it’s “because of transitioning” for a different reason. A while back I switched to a form of estradiol where you get a pellet implanted every few months (as opposed to taking pills twice a day or patches/injections every few days). You’ll notice this “couplefew months” bit sounds familiar… How long the pellets last varies per person, with a prior expectation of three months. The first time around I went that three months; and was depressed for a bit over a month at the end (which is absurdly short for my depressive spells). The second time around, this time around, I went 10 weeks; and was depressed for “two” weeks. I put the two in scarequotes because a week into it L suggested it may be hormonal, so I started taking some of my leftover pills. And began feeling profoundly better after a day or two. Got the new pellet today and can already feel its effect above and beyond the irregularities of pills. Next time I’m aiming for 8 weeks.

So, yeah. I’ve known T / lack of E is a major component of my depression. When I first started HRT I almost immediately started feeling happier than I’d ever been. I often joke how HRT is the best antidepressant I’ve ever tried. (Which is a lot funnier when talking to my psychiatrist, who knows how many I’ve tried and saw how quickly & effectively HRT worked.) But yeah, apparently it’s far more integral than I ever realized. The effects are just so immediate and drastic. They set in long before the hotflashes, headaches, and other symptoms of hormonal imbalance.

So for any other ladies out there on pellets —whether trans or on HRT for other reasons (and I’m sure this applies to men too)— if your depression returns in the vicinity of when you’re due for a new pellet, do be sure to consider that as a possible cause and adjust your schedule as appropriate.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-04-27 06:03 pm

Hacking projects over the next few months

Life’s been really hectic lately, but I’ve been getting (slowly) back into working on my Haskell packages. In particular, since the switch from darcs to github I’ve started getting more comments and feature requests, which is nice. Over the next half-year or so, here’s what I’ll be up to in my free time between work on the dissertation and work on Hakaru:

containers — I’ve been appointed one of the new co-maintainers of our favorite venerable library. I prolly won’t be doing any major work until autumn (as mentioned when I was appointed), but I’ve had a number of conversations with David Feuer about where to take things in terms of cleaning up some old maintenance cruft.

bytestring-trie — A few years back I started reimplementing my tries to use Bagwell’s Array Mapped Tries in lieu of Okasaki’s Big-Endian Patricia Tries, but then got stalled because life. I’ve started up on it again, and it’s just about ready to be released after a few more tweaks. Also, now that I’m working on it again I can finally clear out the backlog of API requests (sorry folks!).

exact-combinatorics — A user recently pointed me towards a new fast implementation of factorial making waves lately. It’s not clear just yet whether it’ll be faster than the current implementation, but should be easy enough to get going and run some benchmarks.

unification-fd — This one isn’t hacking so much as dissemination. I have a backlog of queries about why things are the way they are, which I need to address; and I’ve been meaning to continue the tutorial about how to use this library for your unification needs.

logfloat — We’ve been using this a lot in Hakaru, and there are a few performance tweaks I think I can add. The main optimization area is trying to minimize the conditionals for detecting edge cases. The biggest issue has just been coming up with some decent benchmarks. The problem, of course, is that most programs making use of logfloats do a lot of other work too so it can be tricky to detect the actual effect of changes. I think this is something Hakaru can help a lot with since it makes it easy to construct all sorts of new models.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-04-24 07:08 pm

Quantifiers in type theory

All this stuff is "well known", but I want to put it out there for folks who may not have encountered it, or not encountered it all together in one picture.

The Damas–Hindley–Milner type system (i.e., the type system that Algorithm W is inferring types for) is propositional logic extended with rank-1 second-order universal quantifiers. It is interesting because it is so particularly stable with respect to inference, decidability, etc. That is, we can come up with many other algorithms besides Algorithm W and they enjoy nice properties like the fact that adding type signatures won't cause inference to fail. (It's worth noting, that Algorithm W is DEXPTIME-complete; so while in practice it's often linear time, for pathological inputs it can take exponentially long. However, if we put a constant bound on the depth of nested let-bindings, then the upper bound becomes polynomial.)

The extension of DHM with rank-1 second-order existential quantifiers is strictly more powerful. It is interesting because it allows unrestricted use of both of the quantifiers in prenex position; thus, it is the limit/top of the alternating quantifier hierarchy (à la the arithmetical hierarchy) that starts with DHM. Surely there are other interesting properties here, but this system is understudied relative to the ones above and below. Edit: Although GHC gets by with encoding existentials away, it's worth noting that MLF allows existentials where the unpacking is implicit rather than requiring an "unseal" or case eliminator (Leijen 2006); and also that UHC does in fact offer first-class existentials (Dijkstra 2005).

The extension with rank-2 second-order universals (i.e., where the universal quantifier can appear to the left of one function arrow) is strictly more powerful still. Here we can encode rank-1 existentials, but my point in this whole post is to point out that rank-1 existentials themselves are strictly weaker than the rank-2 universals it takes to encode them! Also, one little-known fact: this type system is interesting because it is the last one in this progression where type inference is decidable. The decidability of rank-2 universal quantification is part of the reason why GHC distinguishes between -XRank2Types vs -XRankNTypes. Alas, although inference is decidable —and thus of mathematical interest— it is not decidable in the same robust way that DHM is. That is, if we care about human factors like good error messages or not breaking when the user adds type signatures, then we don't get those properties here. Still, the fact that this system is at the cusp of decidable inference is important to know. Edit: Also of interest, this system has the same typeable terms as simply-typed λ-calculus with rank-2 intersection types, and the type inference problem here is fundamentally DEXPTIME-complete (Jim 1995).

Things keep alternating back and forth between existentials and universals of each rank; so far as I'm aware, none of these systems are of any particular interest until we hit the limit: rank-ω (aka: rank-N) second-order quantification. This type system is often called "System F", but that's a misnomer. It is important to differentiate between the syntactic system (i.e., actual System F) we're inferring types for, vs the type system (aka: propositional logic with second-order quantifiers) in which the inferred types live. That is, we can perfectly well have a syntactic system which doesn't have explicit type abstractions/applications but for which we still ascribe rank-ω types. It so happens that the type inference problem is undecidable for that syntactic system, but it was already undecidable way back at rank-3 so the undecidability isn't particularly novel.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-04-08 03:49 am
Entry tags:

The problem with ableism is where to begin

I’ve been trying to write a post. Been trying to write a hundred posts, but it’s all a tangle, whenever I try pulling one of the threads the whole ball knots up. Don’t know where to begin, because where can you start when the disease began before you entered the world, because what can you say when you’ve spent so long convincing yourself you have nothing to say? That tangle of where to start, seems like it’s the sort of thing that only ever goes away after you’ve already been talking. I never knew where to start with my psychic pain, back when I joined Bodies Under Siege, I only learned the words for everything I felt after talking so long with other survivors. But back then I had the luxury of anonymity. Had the freedom to explore the boundaries of myself in that anonymized community without worry for repercussions.

Having spent so long convincing myself I’ve nothing to say, it’s like I can’t speak my current mind without first unleashing that backlogged torrent. But I think, really, it’s all ableism. It’s this,… this,… we spend so much time denying the voices of the disabled, I feel like I’m not allowed to speak, feel like before I can claim that mantle I must first earn my street cred. Like, before I can write my post on living with chronic pain, first I must quantify for you what that pain is like lest you don’t believe I have it. Like, before I can write my post on invisibility, I can’t tell you how I’ve been trained to invisibilize myself without also first convincing you there’s something to be hidden beneath that cloak. Like, before I can write my post on internalized ableism, I have to have already told you my whole story —a story over a third of a century in the making, but also a story tangled up in so many other things that aren’t disability but which intersect with my disability. But I can’t tell you that story, not the way I see it, without telling it through the lens of the ableism of which I wished to speak.

But all this inability to speak before having spoken, I know it’s just ableism. Know it’s a tool of the able-bodied system, a tool they beat into us when we’re young, to make sure those who don’t fit the mould stay silent. It’s why I don’t comment or complain about a daily level of pain that’s high enough that OTC painkillers no longer help. It’s why when I do bring up out of the ordinary pain, I’m never believed; doctors are all, “it can’t be that bad if you’re only just mentioning it. Try some advil.” Just exactly like the police to a survivor of rape, “it can’t be all that bad if you’re only just mentioning it. Try not wearing slutty clothes.” And it’s not even the pain that worries me. It’s the feeling of inadequacy. Ableism is the belief that everyone already meets some standard specification of ability and productivity, that anyone who doesn’t measure up is just lazy, is cheating the system, isn’t shouldering their allocated duties, is a burden on the good responsible people, that those who truly “through no fault of their own” can’t reach those specifications are so rare that if you were one you’d already know and you’d never question so why don’t you just suck it up already. It’s the Protestant work ethic that says no matter how hard you work it’s never good enough. It’s why we feel like frauds, why we work so hard it breaks us, for fear of falling behind, for fear of losing everything because of a bad day. It’s that other impostor syndrome, the one that no matter how bad things get you can’t ever shake the worry that it’s all “in your head”, that you’re “making it up for sympathy”, that “it’s really not that bad”.

And all of this is why I can’t even begin to speak. For my experiences of ableism are all filtered through being a survivor of rape, being a survivor of a conservative Christian childhood, being a survivor of psychological torture and gaslighting, being a woman, being queer, and I can’t but draw the obvious and necessary parallels, but those parallels only elucidate if you too have survived these things.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-04-07 02:54 am

Dissertating, ahoy!

Usually whenever we think about gradschool we think about the switch from "doing classwork, quals, etc" to "dissertating" is a single-step process, which we call "becoming a PhD candidate" (as opposed to being a PhD student). In practice there are over half a dozen steps. Filing the paperwork declaring your completion of classwork, quals, etc is just the first few. (Okay, easy enough) Then there's the prospectus, for the graduate school. (The what for the who now?) Then the forming of your research committee. (Right, okay) Then the proposal. (Wait, how is this different from the other thing?) Then the proposal defense. (Um, okay, but not every department requires this?) Plus a few other steps I'm surely forgetting.

As of yesterday, I am officially finally totally completely absolutely done with all the paperwork, and can finally get back to actually working on the thesis itself!

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-04-03 11:12 pm
Entry tags:

Monthly Update

A lot’s been happening this last month. I’ve started at least half a dozen posts, but can’t seem to find the time/energy to finish any of them. Whence the radio silence. So, in lieu of interesting content, an update on life:

At the end of February I solved the hard problem in my thesis!! I’ve been banging my head against that problem for well over a year. So how’d it happen? I had a meeting with one of my advisors to talk about coalgebras for a different project entirely, and something in there got me thinking. (ProTip: always think more about coalgebras.) That weekend I decided to take a whack at the problem again and managed to get everything to work out. Ultimately the solution involves a novel extension to the standard approach for proving strong normalization via logical predicates. On March 4th I gave an impromptu talk at the local PL seminar about the technique. And was planning on spending the next week and a half cranking out an ICFP submission detailing the technique (since it’s of interest outside my thesis), but then...

I’ve mentioned before about how my mother’s been dying. Near the end of February she went to the hospital again; since which my dad gave me and my siblings daily updates on what’s happening. Then on the 6th my dad called and said I needed to come out. So me and L booked a last-minute trip out there for a couple days. It was... stressful, to put it mildly. But I got to catch up with two of my nieces, so that part was cool. On the 30th it was official. The funeral is in the next couple days.

A week after getting back from the last-minute trip to Maryland, me and L went on our anniversary holiday. Last year we rented a cabin in the woods, and it was pretty awesome being woken up by cows and going for hikes. So we decided to do it again this year, though this time we went to Brown county here in Indiana (last year it was in Ohio). OMG this state is misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic! I mean, I’ve known this; but Bloomington is a lot better about hiding it than the rest of the state. Plus, there wasn’t really anywhere good for hiking. The cabin itself was pretty nice, but the rest: ugh. We ended up deciding to head home a day early; just couldn’t deal with how awful the people there were. At least we got to bond over how terrible it all was ;)

And then going on a week ago, my kidneys decided it’s time to murder me again. I’ve gone to the ER three times already for kidney stones, so I’m pretty clear on what the symptoms are. Figured this time I’d try to see a doctor first, to get some pain meds before I need to be hospitalized again. To which I got to revisit that fabulous experience where doctors refuse to acknowledge my pain let alone do anything about it. Gotta love it when you’re nauseous, experiencing visual artifacts/hallucinations, completely out of it, and barely able to carry on a conversation but the doctors have already decided before even seeing you that they’re not going to prescribe anything. I never actually get sick from my pain-nausea, no matter how bad it is; I only get sick from the anti-nausea meds they sneak in with major painkillers. But I wish I could/did get sick, dirty up her office a bit: historically that’s been the only thing to make drs take me seriously.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-02-22 02:16 am
Entry tags:

The last couple weeks

At the beginning of the year I decided to try writing more regularly. For a while things went as planned, but the last few weeks have been sparse. Been dealing with some stuff, and since announcing I’ve accepted the job at Google —or actually, since announcing I was on the job market last fall— I’ve been reluctant to talk about my crazy. I feel hypocritical about it. I know I shouldn’t; most folks don’t talk. But of course, that’s why I feel like a hypocrite. I go on about being open and trying to normalize mental illness, but then when it really matters I go and hide in the closet like everyone else afraid for their jobs. Plus, part of me is all I don’t want to be just another whiny brat on the internet. I know this comes from internalized saneism and puritanical stoicism and all the other repressive shit that makes me want to speak out in the first place, but still, the knowing doesn’t help so much as I’d like for deconstructing that internalized selfhate.

Aside from the internal turmoil, things’ve been going well. (Which, again, makes me feel like shit: for bitching when “I have it good”.) Me and L have been getting shit done in prep for moving out to Mountain View or wherever thereabouts. Been making progress on getting my dissertation rolling again. And finally completed my old task on Hakaru, so now I can move on to new / more interesting stuff with the overall project. Our anniversary is coming up, and we’ve planned our trip. We got our taxes done last weekend and’ll be getting a sizeable return, which’ll help for covering all the incidentals with moving. (Google does cover moving expenses, but those’re payed out on the first paycheck which will, of course, come after we’ve moved.) I went and saw an OT last week re getting splints; got some plastic ones to try out for a bit to be sure they help / are what I want: they do, and are. The followup appointment is scheduled this week for taking measurements to get them ordered, will post pics once they arrive :)

Talking with my therapist last time he asked an interesting question, asked about my experiences of “loss”. At first I didn’t have much to say, couldn’t really think of any. But the more I thought the more came out. I’d never really reflected on loss before. When something pervades so much of your life, you stop noticing it after a while; what use is reflecting on a word that describes the ubiquitous? But I’ve had a lot of it lately, stupid little things mostly (there I go minimizing again) but stupid little things that’ve stirred up bigger beasts from the past. I could say more, but what would it help? I've already talked a bit about my drawing (and my mother, and mortality). Suppose I could spend the next couple posts fleshing out other bits, giving them more time than I really feel up to today. We'll see.

winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)
2016-02-03 01:21 am

It's official, I'm off to Google

It's official, I'm heading to Google at the end of July to work with Mark Larson on the Chrome OS security team (of all things!). Seems an unlikely match, but Mark was pretty keen on my background (including the gender stuff!) and wasn't put off by my fusion of linguistics, type-theory, constructive logic/maths, et al. I guess the security team is more concerned with semantic models and constructive correctness than the other teams I talked with. Makes sense, I suppose, but it's sad that these are still thought of as "security" concerns rather than "everything in programming" concerns.

I'm totally looking forward to it, but I am still thinking of it as a bit of an experiment. I'm an academic at heart, so I could see myself heading back to academia in a few years. (Wanting to be a professor is, afterall, what motivated me to start gradschool in the first place.) Then again, I've never really thought of industry as being interested in the sorts of theory I work on. In any case, I'll still be around at the various conferences I've been frequenting; I won't just disappear into industry.

I know a bunch of y'all are in the bay area. I'd love to hear any pointers you have on apartment hunting or on what neighborhoods (nearish Mt View) are nice— i.e., places an artistic disabled radical queer woman might like. Feel free to comment below or get in touch by email, twitter, etc.