Answering my readers’ questions

Everyone gather ’round. It’s that time again! It’s time for me to answer my readers’ questions!

And by that, I mean, it’s time for me to see what strings of words people have typed into Google that brought them to my blog. Then I look through the search keywords that are (more-or-less) well-formed questions and answer them as best I can. It’s the least I could do, since they took the time to visit my site with these questions on their mind.

“Why can’t the space shuttle leave conventionally from an airport?” (July 26)

Mostly because it’s not an airplane. Those booster rockets that the space shuttle normally uses for take-off are not decorative.

“If I fired a laser beam at my hand would it come out the other side?” (Aug 4)


“How to castle in chess with friends?” (July 31, Aug 7, 14, 17)

Begin a chess game with a friend, castle normally.

“How do you move your king and castle at the same time?” (July 26)

You probably meant “How do you move your king and your rook at the same time?”

“Rook” is the name for the pieces that start at the corners of the board.

In chess, “castle” is a verb. It’s the verb that means to move your rook and king at the same time, two spaces toward each other, provided that the intervening spaces are not occupied and that neither the king nor rook has been moved before in the match (and that you’re not trying to castle out of check).

“Cheat on MCAT tips?” (Aug 1) / “How to cheat the MCAT?” (July 30)

Are you really asking me to help you to cheat on the MCAT? Get out.

“Has anyone ever cheated on MCAT before?” (July 28)

No. No one in the history of mankind. No one whose motives were so pure as to aspire to medical school has ever even considered cheating to attain such a goal.

“Grammar is one of the greatest joys in life, don’t you find?” (Aug 8)

Actually, now that you mention it, grammar is the greatest joy in life.

“How to avoid getting your bike stolen [in] Montréal?” (Aug 25)

Sell bike, and buy Bixi pass with the proceeds.

“How to get your thesis bound at McGill” (July 27)

You gotta do it yourself, I’m afraid. You can get Acco-Press binders at the bookstore.

“How to take someones fortune?” (Aug 21)


“I bought wrong grammar?” (Aug 10)

You sure did.

“I might have strep throat I don’t got insurance?” (Aug 7)

That’s quite the predicament! Are you a Canadian citizen?

“Is there a Montréal métro pass for mature students?” (Aug 19)

Nope. No such thing. Once you’re 25, you pay full price, whether you’re a full-time student or not.

“What happens after you accept a TA-ship offer?” (Aug 4)

Heh … Do you really want to know?

“What is giving you the most problems with Microsoft Word?” (July 26)

Thank you for asking! Mostly crashing, interface glitches and the fact that there’s no separation between content, formatting, comments and meta-data.

“Where can i get hasperat?” (July 28)

Bajor, if you want it authentic.

But if you would make the brine for a really strong hasperat—I mean eye watering, tongue searing strong—you’d make an old man very happy.

I don’t want to jinx it, but …

On Friday, I handed back the first essay for Contemporary Moral Issues, the course I’m TA-ing this semester in the philosophy department at McGill. This time, I tried something new: Before I handed back the paper, I told them all to wait at least twenty-four hours before they talk to me or email me to dispute their grades, so that their emotions could settle.

After handing back their papers, I could see a number of furrowed brows and dismayed looks, but (perhaps out of pity for me—I told them I had periodontal surgery that week) none of them tried to demand a re-grading before leaving.

It’s now been about 68 hours (at the time of posting) since I handed back the papers, and no one has emailed me to complain about her mark.

This is wonderful! Could it be the case that all of my students are so mature that they are willing to simply accept my critiques of their papers, take responsibility for their work, and try harder for the next essay without complaining?

I guess I’ll find out tomorrow during my office hours. On the upside, I now have a fresh bottle of prescription pain killers. :)

Contemporary Moral Issues at McGill

I’m one of the TA’s for the Contemporary Moral Issues course at McGill this semester, and I really appreciate Dr. Reisner, the professor for the course. He gives me a lot of freedom in which to conduct my conferences, provides good structure, and never micro-manages. Further, he often anticipates things that will go wrong.

For example, at the beginning of this semester, he had me take the entire first conference of the year to give an open-book “course syllabus quiz.” Basically, I stood up at the front of the conference and explained to everyone all the potentially troublesome sorts of course details regarding cheating and unacceptable conduct so that later on in the course, they couldn’t say things like, “But I didn’t know it was mandatory to attend every conference!”

Not only that, but when problems happen, like catching students cheating or when they want an excuse from doing required work, I can just send them to Dr. Reisner, and he deals with them.

While I can’t tell you any of the details about what happened this week, it has been very eventful, and I’m very thankful for the forethought of Dr. Reisner.

Car accident

Car accident near Snowdon Station
Car accident near Snowdon Station

I promise—not all my posts from now on are going to be about traffic flow in Montréal. I just happened to surface at Snowdon Station today after my office hours on campus, and the very moment I stepped out of the station, I heard a loud bang. Looking to my right, a car had run into a big white van marked “Incendie.”

No one got hurt, but I bet that put a damper on their Robbie Burns’ Day celebrations.

Metro adventure today

Metro Adventure
Metro Adventure

It’s getting so that you can’t trust the métro any more!

I was trapped at station Lionel-Groulx for a good long time on Wednesday. Me and a few hundred people and one yelling guy. That wasn’t too bad.

Then today, just after I finished TA-ing my first conferences of the semester, a few minutes before 14h this afternoon, I transferred to the orange line at station Lionel-Groulx, and when my metro car was between Vendôme and Place St-Henri, the lights unexpectedly went out, and the train sort of coasted to a stop between the stations.

A voice over the speaker eventually informed us that we would be evacuated.

Below are a couple of videos that I recorded on my iPod. The first is a short one of us getting off the train, and the second is a longish (30 seconds) one of us walking along the métro tunnel toward Vendôme.

When I got there, I just got in a cab and went to station Snowdon, since I didn’t know what bus to take. A nice old lady shared a cab with me, and wouldn’t let me pay for it, so it didn’t cost me a thing!

According to the STM Twitter feed, service is only just now (15h10) gradually resuming.

Variations on my name

This is something I forgot to mention while I was marking exams. Apparently my students don’t know what my name is. They were asked to write their TA’s name on their exam book, and when I received them, I got so many strange and fun variations!

A fairly standard one was “Benjamin Murphy,” which is understandable, but incorrect. “Murf” was a common, but charming mis-spelling. The most mystifying one, though, was “Ben Carsdale.”

I should have left that exam for Ben Carsdale to mark. Good grief.

TA-ship for next semester

Recently, I found out that I have been offered a second TA-ship. This is great, because it means that I will have enough money to last me for the rest of the semester and a bit into the summer. Last year, I only had one TA-ship and I pretty much ran out of money at the end of the school year (which is why it was such a big deal for me to get a job right away, and why I was so panicked about it at the time).

I will be a TA for Contemporary Moral Issues. I’m not sure who the prof is, yet. I’m looking forward to TA-ing this course. I think it will be more like last year’s TA-ship than the one I’m just finishing, because the course isn’t really a “core” philosophy course—there will be many students taking the course who are not philosophy majors, just like the biomedical ethics course from last year.

A lot can happen in a year

I arrived here in Montreal one year ago on Friday.

A lot has changed.

Sometimes it’s good to sit back and take stock of all the things that have happened, and to think about all the things that one has to be thankful for. Things are generally pretty good now: I had a great job for the summer, I have great friends living in my building, and I was just talking with Pickles today and thinking about how much I appreciate her. I even have a TA-ship and an RA-ship lined up for this school year.

I’m TA-ing the introductory ethics course in the philosophy department this year, which will be exciting.

Things are different from the way they were a year ago. They’re different from what I expected, and certainly different from what I wanted, but I’m okay with the way things are.