Biology, Linguistics, and the Folly of Two

As a child, I had a book that described the differences between numerous common animal categories. It provided two-page spreads, lavishly illustrated, narrating the differences between frogs and toads, salamanders and newts, snakes and lizards, turtles and tortoises, whales and dolphins, whales and fish, and more. Each was authoritative, each was simple, and each, I would later learn, was either only superficially correct or outright wrong. Deeper exploration of these animal groups shows how these basic dualities offer little explanatory power or understanding and reveal more about us than they do about the world. Biology does not deal in dualities, and classification in particular finds them quaint and obsolete.

So, let’s dive into a few of them.

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Biology, Linguistics, and the Folly of Two
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The Ones We Left Behind: Urban Pigeons Deserve Better

Few animals in urban settings garner less sympathy than the pigeon. Christened “rats with wings” by their detractors and dismissed as ambulatory pollution by most city-dwellers, they do not bring the sparkle of joy that cardinals provide or even the nonchalant charm of equally European-derived house sparrows. Much ink is spilled and homeowner frustration vented on the subject of how to get them to stay away from a place or outright stop existing. Our cities are littered with plastic spikes to deter their passage and false nesting sites set up for easy egg-culling. The appearance of peregrine falcons in urban environments is celebrated not only because these birds are magnificent in their own right, but because they prey on pigeons. Those who would defend these creatures receive accusations of naïveté, as though no one who actually interacted with pigeons could find them anything less than offensive.

Watching them live, one has trouble understanding this antipathy. Pigeons’ coloration is striking, with most feral individuals having a band of purple iridescence around their necks that catches the sun. Pigeons retain more of their domestic color variation than most feral animals, making their flocks a riot of diversity. Their calls range from soothing coos to purr-like rumbles, and their mating displays are charmingly gawky. They are unusual among birds in how easily they can drink, directly sucking from water sources rather than filling their bills and pouring it down their throats like most birds. They can use sight, smell, and the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate home from thousands of kilometers away. They are devoted parents, with father and mother alike caring for their young until they are fully fledged and even producing “crop milk” in their digestive tracts to feed their squabs. This ability allows pigeons to breed throughout the year, another superpower they have over other birds. Their bodies are loveably rotund, their behavior surprisingly affectionate. Pigeons are, if anything, most of the things we like about cats, only far more sociable. So why the hate?

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The Ones We Left Behind: Urban Pigeons Deserve Better

Four Months Later: How is Recovery?

I had facial feminization surgery and breast augmentation on 28 January this year. Recovery from these procedures is a long process, even if the worst of it is over in the first few weeks. I already reported on the immediate aftermath and on two months later, so, how are two additional months treating me?

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Four Months Later: How is Recovery?

The Satisfaction of a Good Optimization Problem, Or, That Time I Obsessed About Some Wires for A Week Straight

I’m a tidy autistic. Compared to most of my friends, my home is uncannily organized; my routines are rigid and often inflexible. When I last moved house, my new home was 90% unpacked within the first week and firmly lived-in by the end of the first month, thanks to packing my previous home with destination rooms in mind and having a new floor plan for my furniture worked out in PowerPoint a month before moving day. With tape measures, notes, and detailed pro/con analyses, I worked out the best places for my sofa, television, display cases, desk, aquaria, and each individual houseplant, along with which new items to order and where those would go. Waste is sorted immediately and removed on a schedule, and cups never accumulate away from the drying rack. Mess makes me anxious and staying on top of these things is both a gift for and the result of my executive function, not done for others but to keep my home liveable for me. I pride myself on that level of masterful order and accept the neuroticism that comes with it as the price of success.

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The Satisfaction of a Good Optimization Problem, Or, That Time I Obsessed About Some Wires for A Week Straight

Building Your First World

“World-building” is a challenge that faces many people: novelists, RPG hosts, screenplay writers, and most other categories of storyteller. Settings are the literal and figurative background of tales large and small, and for all that they are rarely the focus of a narrative the way characters and plot rightfully are, they are critical to that narrative making sense. Worldbuilding can be a forbiddingly large task, but it can be both efficient and rewarding if one keeps a few pointers in mind.

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Building Your First World

Sancocho, Alyssa Style

Every culture with relatively easy access to water has some variety of stew. Boiling provides an even heat with far less risk of burning food than other cooking methods and can extract additional nutrition from bones and other inedible matter. Stews provide an easy way to create a medley of flavor from many ingredients and to safely and effectively turn mismatched leftovers into a coherent meal. Stews are hearty staples that bring welcome heat to chilled bellies, and Latin America certainly has its share, many of which share the single name sancocho.

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Sancocho, Alyssa Style

Two Months Later: How Did the Surgery Go?

Two months ago, I undertook the last transition-related surgery I anticipate ever having. There are body modifications ahead of me, most importantly various forms of hair removal and more tattoos, but this step makes my medical transition feel complete in ways that previous steps did not. So how did it go?

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Two Months Later: How Did the Surgery Go?