They Live On: One biography and one obituary


Friday was Transgender Day of Remembrance (a topic I still need to write about).  The stories of two important women made the news on the weekend.  One is Lynn Conway, finally getting the recognition and apology she deseres.  The other is Jan Morris who recently died.  Morris and her name will live on through her many highly regarded books.

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Lynn Conway is a giant in computing, responsible for many innovations that make cell phones, the Internet and reduction of computer chip size possible.  She transitioned in 1968 at a time when even the word “gay” and “homosexual” could get you fired, a year before anyone ever heard of Stonewall.

While it’s good that IBM apologized to her, they haven’t offered any financial compensation for the billions they earned in profits over the next few decades (e.g. her VLSI advances which made Intel’s 80×86 series possible and powered the IBM PC).  She may have done well despite their actions, but words aren’t enough.

IBM Apologizes For Firing Computer Pioneer For Being Transgender…52 Years Later

You’ve likely never heard of 82-year-old computer scientist Lynn Conway, but her discoveries power your smartphones and computers. Her research led to successful startups in Silicon Valley, supported national defense, and powered the internet.

Long before becoming a highly respected professor at the University of Michigan, Conway was a young researcher with IBM. It was there, on August 29, 1968, that IBM’s CEO [Thomas Watson Jr.] fired her for reasons that are illegal today. Nearly 52 years later, in an act that defines its present-day culture, IBM apologized and sought forgiveness.

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First finding work as a contract programmer, Conway rapidly ascended the career ladder. By 1971, she was working as a computer architect at Memorex Corporation. Her rising reputation led to her recruitment by the (soon to become famous) Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1973.

In 1977, while leading PARC research into enhanced methods for computer chip design, Conway began co-authoring a book on the methods with Carver Mead, a professor at Caltech. On sabbatical from PARC as a visiting professor at MIT, she created and taught an experimental course on Very Large Scale Integrated (VLSI) chip design based on the draft of her textbook with Mead.

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“. . . Among [Conway’s] many foundational contributions to computer architecture are the scalable digital design rules she invented for silicon chip design and the ARPANET e-commerce infrastructure she developed for rapid chip prototyping – thereby launching a paradigmatic revolution in microchip design and manufacturing . . .,” explains John L. Anderson, President of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

She was fired personally by Thomas Watson Jr.  It was Thomas Watson Sr. who willingly supplied tabulation machines to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

To their credit, IBM willingly and openly began supporting Transgender rights in 2018.  Unlike most companies which engage in “pinkwashing”, IBM does not sell products to indivduals after selling their PC business to China’s Lenovo in 2004.  Their revenue now comes from institutions (government, big business, education), some of which oppose human rights for Transgender people.  They are actually putting their profits at risk with their support, not trying to increase profits by slapping a rainbow on them.

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Jan Morris was an author and historian who wrote several groundbreaking and award winning books, including “Pax Britannica” (a three volume history of the British Empire), her novel “Last Letters from Hav”, and “Conundrum”, her account about her transition.

Jan Morris, historian, travel writer and trans pioneer, dies aged 94

Jan Morris, the historian and travel writer who evoked time and place with the flair of a novelist, has died aged 94.

As a journalist Morris broke monumental news, including Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent of Everest, and the French involvement in the Israeli attack on Egypt in the Suez war. As a bestselling author of more than 30 books, she was equally lauded for histories including Pax Britannica, her monumental account of the British Empire, and for her colourful accounts of places from Venice to Oxford, Hong Kong to Trieste. But she was also well-known as a transgender pioneer, with Conundrum, her account of the journey from man to woman, an international sensation when it was published in 1974.

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Unfortunately, the Guardian deadnamed Jan Morris in her obituary.  Perhaps that will happen less now that infamous TERF bigot Suzanne Moore has been “let go” by the Guardian. Unfortunately, the Guardian’s other infamous TERF bigot, editor Katharine Viner, remains in a position she is unqualified for and undeserving of.

Cue the inevitable TERF whining about “censorship” and “deplatforming”.  Trust me, if Trans people could silence TERFs we would.  You know we can’t because TERFs never shut up.

 

 

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