I’a Ota, Alyssa Style

When I stayed on the island of Mo’orea in French Polynesia, breakfast at the resort was served as a buffet. It included a characteristic spread of cured meats, cheeses, croissants, fresh fruit, pancakes and eggs prepared to order, and similar fare, all the staples one might expect of hotel and resort breakfasts, all clearly influenced by the tropical and French setting, but it also had one distinctively Polynesian offering: a bowl of poisson cru à la tahitienne, usually translated as “Tahitian ceviche.” Known in Tahitian as “i’a ota,” simply “raw fish,” but more commonly described locally with its French name, this dish instantly captured my heart and my palate, and few breakfasts passed without a ladle-full of it next to the cheeses and croissant on my plate.

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I’a Ota, Alyssa Style
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A Field Guide to Aquarium Carbon Dioxide Systems

People who visit my living room are often struck by the sheer, jungle-like lushness of the vegetation in my 125-gallon aquarium. The tank has such a profusion of plant life that its fish sometimes fight for the clear spaces or disappear for weeks on end in the thickets, living as they would in only the most abundant natural settings. This is a far cry from the aquaria I maintained as a child, when the only plants I could keep alive were the most beginner-friendly, least demanding species, if even then. Perseverance got me to my current skill, and a key part of that perseverance is learning my way around more advanced tools of the aquarist trade. And for someone who takes great joy in aquatic plants, that means carbon dioxide (CO2).

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A Field Guide to Aquarium Carbon Dioxide Systems

Oh Deer: What Is an Antelope?

Humans are very, very bad at biological categories. We focus on general shapes and ecotypes and miss the biologically significant details that truly trace the history of life on our planet, and again and again our colloquial terms fall short of the expansive splendor of reality. I’ve written before about how the basic categorization schemes humans use don’t quite capture the way turtles versus tortoises, frogs versus toads, and other dichotomous pairings relate to one another, and today, we dive into a still-deeper morass: what is an antelope?

This seemingly simple question is actually such a mess of corner cases and evolutionary accidents that it not only defies an easy answer, but drags the concept of “deer” down with it. Let’s have a look.

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Oh Deer: What Is an Antelope?

I Am Setsuna: A Game of Compassion and Sacrifice

I don’t play many PC or video games, despite the somewhat silly amount of money I’ve spent on acquiring them and on making sure I can enjoy them in comfort. My solo gaming is divided between a small number of well-loved strategy games such as Ticket to Ride and Monster Prom that I play casually to while away low-energy afternoons and long role-playing games full of subplots, romance, choices, and level-up choices. I am a fiction writer, after all, and I thrive on narrative. It is among the latter that the small-release Japanese RPG I Am Setsuna claimed its niche in my life, and it is among the latter that it quite impressed me.

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I Am Setsuna: A Game of Compassion and Sacrifice

What My Bicycle Taught Me

I recently acquired a bicycle for use as my primary means of getting around. Ottawa, where I reside, is neither a public transit utopia nor a city known for bicycle-friendliness, so this decision and my broader commitment to never driving a car might puzzle some of my readers. What did I hope to gain by adding a bicycle to my life, and how did I hope to make it work in this often infuriatingly car-centric city?

Navigating this city by bicycle for the past two months has imposed quite a few lessons upon me, some more surprising than others. Let’s begin.

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What My Bicycle Taught Me

Suburbs Are Conservative

Look at recent election maps, especially in Canada, and it is easy to spot a demographic pattern taking shape: vast swaths of residential land around cities voting conservative or worse while the urban cores they surround vote far more progressively. The US has similar patterns and maps like these are not difficult to find in other countries as well. Much ink has been spilled about the rural/urban divide in developed-world elections, but increasingly, the divide that matters is between urban and suburban voters, and the reality that makes it matter is that suburbs seem inescapably conservative. But why?

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Suburbs Are Conservative

Pasteles, Alyssa Style

Few words cause Hispanic people as much consternation as the word pastel, plural pasteles. Nominally translating to “cake,” this word can apply to anything from sweet flaky filled pastries (very popular in Miami) to ordinary American-style cakes to today’s entry, a meat-filled savory mash wrapped in banana leaves and boiled.

If you’re wondering how the word for “cake” could apply to all those things that have nothing except the vague concept of starch in common, you’re not alone. Essentially any use of this word between people from different Latin American ancestries requires clarification, lest someone expect this recipe and receive a cake. Sometimes the same person uses pastel in multiple ways, alternatives forgotten, and only a heaping dose of adjectives can rescue any sense of comprehension. Is it the American pastel, the Cuban pastel, the Puerto Rican pastel? You turn to your loved ones for assistance and steam issues from their banana-leaf clothing; they too are pastel.

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Pasteles, Alyssa Style

Make The Correct Thing Easy

The core of sociology is one simple truth: individual people can be a mess to predict, but masses of people are easy. Human behavior in aggregate is subject to simple incentives and simple outcomes. Crowds can be studied with models that verge on purely physical, scarcely requiring that even biology play a role. It is not difficult to figure out what humans will do when presented with a certain set of incentives, and one of the insights that follows is that if one wants people to take a certain action, one of the most effective ways to make that happen is to make the correct thing easy.

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Make The Correct Thing Easy