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.

New Bixi station at station Snowdon

New Bixi Station
New Bixi Station

I remember remarking to a number of friends last summer that the only thing keeping me from getting a Bixi key was the fact that there were no Bixi stations anywhere near me.

I checked. A couple times.

I really wanted the whole Bixi thing to work out for me.

I used to love riding my bike when I was in high school (until my bike was stolen, that is). It was perfect for getting around in Stratford. I could be anywhere in the city within a half hour. The fact that my high school bike was stolen is probably what’s kept me from getting a bike here. If I couldn’t even prevent a bike from being stolen in Stratford (pop. 30,000), what chance do I have living in Montréal (pop. 3 million). I didn’t really want to have to worry about locking my bike up, and dealing with it when the weather’s bad. I mean, I live on the 4th floor of a building with no elevator. I don’t want to have to haul my bike up all those stairs. Not even once.

My last bicycle
My last bicycle

That said, I do like bikes as a mode of transportation. When I lived in China I had a great bike. It was gigantic. I could see over everyone’s head.

I like the exercise and the convenience. I like that parking a bike is easier than parking a car.

Having a bixi pass is even better than owning a bike. It’s $80 for the year, and you get as much use of the bikes as you like, for 45 mins at a time. I don’t have to worry about anyone stealing my bike. I don’t have to worry about maintaining a bike. I don’t even have to think about what kind of bike I want.

At long last, last week, they installed a Bixi station across the street from me. The only thing that was keeping me from getting a Bixi pass was the lack of Bixi stations near me, and that is no longer an issue. So I ordered a Bixi key. I’ll have to get a helmet now.

Why not volunteers [sic]?

"Why not volunteers?"
"Why not volunteers?"

As an MA student in bioethics, I am very interested in the advertisements on the Métro for participation in phase I drug studies.

And that’s not just because they were very tempting back when I had no job and no prospects at the end of the school year in April.

I have found the evolution of this particular advertisement to be very notable indeed. A few months ago, when I first noticed it, it went something like this:

“Up to $4000 for healthy men, 18–45 / A clinical trial? Why not!”

It would run in English first, then in French, and in the version that they were running a few months ago, there was no translation problem.

Now, it is the same message, except instead of “A clinical trial? Why not!” it says, “Why not volunteers [sic]?”

English mistranslation aside, the emphasis of the message has changed. At first, the tone was more on the “Why not?”—it was more like the advertisers were saying, “Yeah, we know it’s a clinical trial, but let’s throw caution to the wind! What could go wrong?”

Now, the emphasis has changed. It’s like the advertisers are now trying to go for more of the “It’s for a good cause” feel. “Volunteer. Why wouldn’t you? It’s so that these kind people can develop drugs that will help all of us.”

“Why not volunteers?”

Jewish General Hospital

Which one would you have gone to?
Which one would you have gone to?

Here’s a nifty home experiment that you can do without a grown-up! Try a Google Maps search for “Jewish General Hospital, Montréal.” You’ll get two results. Try to guess which one is the real Jewish General hospital. I’ll give you a hint: It’s not the one labelled “A. Jewish General Hospital.” The real one is clear on the other side of the city, and kind of near my home.

So this morning I had an appointment with the ethicist at the Jewish General Hospital. I looked up the location of the hospital, and when I got the Google Maps result, I thought that there were maybe two “Jewish General Hospitals”—one that was the Jewish General simpliciter, and one that was the Sir Mortimer Jewish General. Since no one had ever mentioned to me that I was going to Sir Mortimer Hospital, I figured that I should go to the other one.

A 35-minute Métro ride and a 5-minute bus ride later, I was at the hospital right on time, at 9 o’clock sharp. I was at the Notre-Dame hospital. It turns out that the first address that’s given as a result in that Google Maps search is actually a completely different hospital that doesn’t have “Jewish” in its name at all. Quelle surprise.

I called everyone that I could think of who was in Montréal, but no one was picking up at 9h on a lundi. I thought about hailing a taxi, but then I remembered that I didn’t have any money. I walked back to the Sherbrooke Métro and called Info Santé. For those of you in Ontario, it’s the Québec equivalent of TeleHealth. She was able to tell me where the Jewish General Hospital was. I found a map of the city in the Métro and looked for a hospital on Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catharine, and the nearest Métro stop.

Turns out there are two hospitals on that street, Sainte-Justine and Jewish General. I went to the wrong one first. Fortunately, they weren’t too far apart.

I arrived a bit over an hour late, and missed the appointment. I was still able to talk to the ethicist afterward, explain what happened, and attend another meeting, but it was a less-than-promising start to today.

How to get a Métro pass in Montréal at the student rate

A Métro station in Montréal
A Métro station in Montréal
  • Submit your legal documentation to McGill.
  • Wait for your Québec Permanent Code. This number is generated by the government of Québec, and there’s nothing the school can do to speed up this process. This may take over a month. Your permanent code can be found in Minerva, under Student Menu > Student Records Menu > View Your Unofficial Transcript. If the box next to “Permanent Code” is blank, it hasn’t been provided yet.
  • Go to the James Administration Building. You can get a confirmation of enrolment for the OPUS card there.
  • You will need $13, your Permanent Code, confirmation of enrolment and a pen for this step. Go to the OPUS centre at McGill Station and fill out a form to request an OPUS card. Buy a card. They will take your photograph at this point, so maybe have a shower that day.
  • Put enough money on your OPUS card to buy a monthly student pass. For one month, it costs $37.
  • Buy a monthly pass, and use the OPUS card as your Métro fare.
  • Finally, get on the subway at your nearest Métro stop and reminisce about the days at UWO where your student government literally handed you a public transit pass on your first day of school. (Then again, the transit in London is nowhere near as good as it is in Montréal, so it’s best not to romanticise your memories of it too much.)

Right now, I’m on step two – waiting for my Québec Permanent Code. I eagerly check on the McGill student services site daily, but it hasn’t arrived yet.

Edit: I finally got my Québec Permanent Code on August 5th. (I submitted my legal documentation on June 19th.) And yes, I did rush out to get a Métro pass. And yes it is everything I could have dreamed it would be. :)

Another edit: If you are moving to Montréal, consider downloading the iPhone app for the Montréal Métro that I wrote!