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March 27, 2014

Hey Toronto, need a hobby? Join a Meetup or Facebook group!

Toronto has literally hundreds of different and Facebook groups that meet regularly to explore whatever topics or hobbies they find interesting.

Thus regardless of your interests, there are lots of hobbies out there for Torontonians (or any other city dweller) for you to try and learn more about.

Take for example

The Toronto Poetry Club operates a Meetup group, a Facebook page, and a poetry website. The poetry club has poetry circle readings and anyone who is a Toronto poet (or even non Toronto residents) can join in.

The Toronto Poetry Club on

The Toronto Poetry Club on

The Toronto Poetry Club official website

The Toronto Feminist Meetup is a group which promotes feminism, equal rights for women and has feminist talks about books, entertainment, politics, legal matters and more.

Toronto Survivalists is a group which enjoys camping, hunting, fishing, and explores a variety of woodcraft skills.

The Toronto Vegan Meetup Group is a group for vegans and vegetarians and veggie-curious people to share recipes, get together for making food together and various vegan friendly social events.

And yes, I realize the hunting/fishing group and the vegan group basically covers everyone who eats food.

But what if you just want to hang out with new friends and play board games? Well there is a group for that too.

The Toronto Area Gamers group is for people who love boardgames, roleplaying games, card games, and even video games. Want to meet other gamers? "TAG" is the place to join.

So if you are bored and browsing the internet - well then you really have no excuse. Go join a club! Get into a new sport like archery or boxing! Hang out with other people with similar interests!

March 17, 2014

Stealing Words at the University of Toronto

By Ai Lung Nguyen

I plagiarized this article about plagiarism. Just kidding, I only partly plagiarized it. I plagiarized part of the title.

Not the whole title. Just part of it. Technically just the word "Words" is still the same, along with the concept that words have been stolen. Everything else is original. Except the statistics, which I found.

Call it the beauty of the internet. Plagiarism is so easy now that you can steal the title of someone else's work, change the title in some way, and claim it as your own witty way of writing an idea.

It is a bit like taking a song like "War" and making a new song called "War, huh? What is that good for?"

And now I have an excuse to include the following video...

Anywho, back to my main topic.

Let us pretend that you are an university professor or TA at the University of Toronto, and you are certain one of your students submitted an essay that they did not write.

But you can't prove it because you cannot find an identical essay online or at any other source.

It might even be blatantly obvious that the student did not write the essay - and when asked might say something like "Oh my boyfriend helped me edit it." Which is technically nothing wrong with that. Asking a friend to edit your essay is perfectly legit and even recommended.

And you might ask "How much of the essay did your boyfriend write for you?"

"None. He just corrected the spelling errors and grammar."

Spelling errors and grammar. Services that are easily provided by software these days, making such editing and proofreading services obsolete.

I know this because years ago when my aunt and uncle moved to Canada they were having problems with their son learning how to read and they ended up buying a better version of MS Word that had grammar and spellcheck software that would help him in school. They bought it and his grades went up dramatically.

What that proves is access to quality software can improve a student's grades very easily.

Likewise having access to friends and family that know how to edit, proofread and provide suggestions on how to fix your essay would also be valuable.

There are a plethora of essay writing companies in Toronto, many of which even have offices within walking distance of the University of Toronto campus. One such company is, which provides a long list of services from writing Masters and Ph.D. dissertations / thesis essays, doing your math homework for you, resume writing, CV and cover letter writing, editing and proofreading, heck they would probably even do creative writing / poetry assignments for you...

None of which I need, I just find it amusing that people would hire other people to write their poetry for them.

And then the professor reads your essay, thesis, poetry, etc. and thinks to themselves "This is way too well written - it has to be plagiarized!"

Which begs the question, if you are going to hire someone to write an essay for you... maybe you should ask them to deliberately make mistakes while writing the essay so it isn't "too good".

Another factor to take into account is students who don't hire someone else to write their essay for them, but instead just steal someone else's essay that they find online.

Which is often the professor's first guess, I imagine. So they go scouring the internet and either find something that shows the essay was ripped off, or they come away empty handed.

If they cannot prove the essay was plagiarized (without a doubt) then they cannot accuse the student of wrongdoing without undeniable proof.

Instances where students get caught committing academic dishonesty are rare at the University of Toronto - but there are about a dozen companies operating solely on selling essays to University of Toronto students, to say nothing of individuals who are selling their essay writing skills on Craigslist.

So we KNOW there are literally hundreds of students at the University of Toronto who are cheating on essays and other class projects, but they are not getting caught for whatever reason. To say nothing of students who are plagiarizing their essays off the internet from various sources.

Some classes might even have a very high percentage of plagiarized essays (purchased or found online), to the point that half the class or more might be using plagiarized material.

At which point the professors really are guessing as to which essays are faked because half of them might be plagiarized and they don't have a clue.

What I find funny is how students really don't need to plagiarize at all. One of the things I loved doing during university was quoted things. I would quote large chunks of other people's work, state who made the comments, and include everything in the references / bibliography. All perfectly legit and it takes up a large part of the essay in a hurry when you are trying to get all the extra "words" in a 3,000 word essay.

I could basically write the essay introduction, find 5 examples of quotes by other people (noted historians/etc), explain why their view was valid and important, and then conclusions at the end of the essay. Then add the books or websites where I found the quotes in the bibliography and done! Easy peasy!

Note - I Googled "easy peasy" to make sure it was spelled correctly.

So yes, the internet does make it very easy for students to cut and paste and plagiarize sources for their essay... but if they just put quotes around the parts they are cutting and pasting, add footnotes and a bibliography then what they are doing is perfectly legit.

My essays back in university were literally covered in footnotes. I would even stick funny little anecdotes into my footnotes, thinks I thought were ironic, pop culture references, making fun of politicians, whatever added extra body to the essay. My essays had PERSONALITY!!!

Another trick I loved to do during my essays in university was to contact and interview someone who was still alive. Then I could use the interview and lots of quotes during the essay. It would definitely be original then - and in the case of a phone interview I might even record it over speaker phone and hand in a recording with the essay.

Another one I loved doing is statistics. I would put them in larger letters for added emphasis. See further below.

Thus I was never accused of plagiarism myself. My professor knew my essays were original because I was just so darn awesome that there was no doubt I wrote it.

But let us pretend for a moment you have a nitwit in your class room who submits a high quality essay worthy of someone applying to become a Ph.D. student. You KNOW they did not write it because it has none of their personality in it, uses big words they probably don't even know how to spell, and is so well written it deserves a Pulitzer prize. Their boyfriend/girlfriend wrote it, they hired someone to write it, or they stole it from a source online.

Some people also like to blame a variety of reasons (other than the internet) as to why plagiarism is so prevalent these days. Reasons like:

Getting rid of Grade 13 in high schools.
Destreaming Advanced, General and Basic level classes in high schools.
Dumbing down the projects assigned in high schools.
High school teachers not teaching essay writing any more.
Universities not requiring students to write an essay to get into university.
TV and internet is making students dumber and dumber.

But is cheating really any more common than in the past? Or are people just getting better at catching cheaters?

According to a 2006 University of Guelph study of more than 13,000 undergraduates at Canadian universities, a little more than half of students admitted to having cheated on written work.

So that is pretty common if roughly 51% of students have cheated at some point.

Back at the University of Toronto, the number of official cases of plagiarism (people caught cheating) climbed to 403 in 2005-06 from 92 twelve years earlier. The increase also coincides with an almost 50 per cent increase in enrolment - which means that U of T is enrolling more students that are less intelligent and possibly have never even written a single essay in their life because teachers in high schools don't teach essay writing any more and don't assign essays either.

Obviously more research needs to be done to determine exactly how many people are cheating.

Or better yet, U of T should hire graduates to go undercover and work for essay writing companies - and report back to U of T as to which essays are purchased. An expensive solution to the problem, but it would open an eye into the world of buying and selling essays.

A proactive approach to catching cheaters would get far more results than professors having to do the leg work themselves - which is pretty hit and miss and a bit like trying to prove rape in a sexual assault trial (rape trials have very low conviction rates).

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