The Power of Urban Planning

People act like urban design is just something that happens, a fact of nature that unfolds as passively as wind patterns and desire paths. Developers develop parcels, drivers drive roads, commuters take buses, and it all happens piecemeal, one step at a time, all of them disconnected from the others and together forming a city as an accidental, organic, wild thing.

That just isn’t how this works.

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The Power of Urban Planning
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Elegy for the Ones Who Never Got to Be: Trans Day of Remembrance 2022

Delivered as a speech for Canadian Heritage on 16 November 2022.

We usually hold these events for ourselves. Trans Day of Remembrance is a somber occasion we mark with candlelight, elegies, and promises to the future. Every year, hundreds of us breathe our last in Brazil and Turkey and the United States and, yes, here in Canada, and every year those of us who feel safe all being in one place at a known time gather and make our sad pledge: remember the dead and fight like hell for the living. They died unloved and endure one more cruel indignity by way of obituaries and funeral services that don’t acknowledge who they really were, and we place one wholly inadequate bandage on that wound by insisting: they never saw your light, but we did. And we will not forget.

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Elegy for the Ones Who Never Got to Be: Trans Day of Remembrance 2022

Mapo Tofu, Alyssa Style

Chinese cooking is an underrated home-cooking option outside of its original home, and it’s not difficult for this Western-educated home cook to see why. With its different sensibilities about what kinds of cookware and tools are critical for a well-stocked kitchen, its reliance on ingredients that are likely unfamiliar to people used to food with other origins, and its characteristic sensibility about food pairings that can make it difficult to combine with food from other traditions, Chinese cooking often feels like a wholly separate discipline from other culinary affairs. It isn’t—all cooking is connected—but the feeling is hard to shake when every recipe calls for a wok and mentions spices that are rare in non-Chinese spice cabinets. Chinese-American cooking is what it is in part because of how Chinese foodways adapted to both American palates and American ingredients, creating a fusion cuisine as beautiful as any of its influences. It only takes a little ingenuity to make classic Chinese dishes work with the tools this Puerto Rican home cook has at her disposal in a kitchen that really doesn’t need one more pot or pan in it, and today’s success is the much-loved Sichuanese classic called mapo tofu.

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Mapo Tofu, Alyssa Style

Time Travel in Dragon Ball Z and Super, Now with Cladograms

Cladograms are a versatile diagramming tool for tracking changing events with heritable consequences. They were developed for biology and are used primarily to track evolution and speciation, showing how different organisms, genes, or populations are related to each other and which events caused them to become distinct. Although cladograms are best known for their increasing prevalence in biological literature, their logic is flexible enough to be used in numerous other fields as well. In particular, linguistics, archaeology, and computer engineering all have roles for cladograms, because all these fields have something in common with biology: an interest in tracking shared past events through future divergence.

This connection to the ideas of past and future gives cladograms another, surprising purpose: they can be used to map the mess of time-travel-related parallel universes in the Dragon Ball franchise.

Spoilers ahoy for the second two-thirds of Dragon Ball Z and the first half of Dragon Ball Super as presented in their anime adaptations.

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Time Travel in Dragon Ball Z and Super, Now with Cladograms

Home Cladograms – The Evolution of a Menagerie

Evolution is a powerful thing. In the span of generations it turns scuttling reptiles into towering sauropods and soaring birds, and it has made and unmade more living things than humanity will ever know. Understanding the relationships between the lineages of living things is one of the grander ways in which humans understand our place in the infinite assemblage of life, and it also tells us an enormous amount about how everything is related to everything else. For the right ultra-specific kind of nerd, it’s also barrels of fun. Fortunately, we have just such a nerd in attendance.

So I made cladograms for all my pets and plants.

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Home Cladograms – The Evolution of a Menagerie

You Don’t Want to Live in Miami

I have been away from Miami, the city where my family made their homes after relocating from the northeastern US, for many years. I moved away in 2009, and this year made the most complete departure I likely ever will. One by one, the threads holding me to that place in particular wither and crumble, in items reclaimed and funerals attended. I had sad, sad cause to spend a few days in this sunlit hometown recently, being driven around in relatives’ cars, and those days were enough to cement in my mind what my opinion of Miami had already long been: the sheer heedless decadence of this place is incompatible with a life well-lived. You do not want to live in Miami.

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You Don’t Want to Live in Miami

Operation Paludarium

For the past several years, I have known that I had space for exactly one more aquarium in my office and my tank-maintenance routine, bringing the total in my home to three. I have been hemming and hawing about what, exactly, to do with that space ever since. My original hope was to set up a marine system designed for a mantis shrimp, in fulfillment of a childhood dream, but my research into that quest showed it to be far more expensive and challenging than I was prepared to take on, especially as a third system. I ultimately settled on a different childhood dream to pursue: a paludarium. Continue reading “Operation Paludarium”

Operation Paludarium