Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Smells like Christmas

Two more unrelated topics today:

For the last couple of days my house has smelled like Christmas, or at least what Christmas smells like in my imagination.

My friend Kathy dropped by the other day with a massive quantity of pears, and yesterday I began the process of making and canning pear butter with them.  The recipe is turning out great, but there's one small problem--I've only made this stuff once before and began with way too much liquid this time.  As the name implies, pear butter needs to be fairly thick or else you have to call it pear sauce.

To thicken the pear butter without burning it I poured the batch into a very large crock pot set to high with the lid off.  I grossly underestimated the length of time required to reduce the liquid, and it wasn't close to done by bedtime, so I lowered the temp to warm and put the lid on so as not to burn the stuff.  When I woke up this morning, I removed the lid and cranked the crock pot back up to high to resume the process of evaporation.

For the last 24 hours or so, the heady aroma of fruit, cinnamon, allspice, clove, nutmeg and vanilla have filled the house.  Call it Christmas in August.  I'm not sure why I associate that smell with Christmas, but I do.

The pear butter has nearly reached the desired consistency, so I'll be canning the stuff presently and our home will return in time to the dog days of summer.


Yesterday I wrote about an on-line course I'm taking from the University of Michigan through Coursera.  Part of the course requirement each week is to read and grade essays written by my student peers.

This week we were studying Lewis Carroll and one of the essays I was given to grade went off on a riff about how different things in Alice in Wonderland symbolized the War of the Roses.  This was done without any citation, so out of curiosity I inserted a sentence from the essay into Google and the entire assignment came back word-for-word. From Wikipedia.

Wikipedia?  Really?

I wrote about this in one of the course discussion forums.  My post has taken on a life of its own, resulting in many dozens of responses and several parallel threads.  I wasn't the only peer reviewer who discovered plagiarized essays.  Apparently plagiarism and other forms of gaming the system are fairly widespread in the class.

Why?  What's the point?

The mind boggles.  There is a grade given to students in the class, but it a NON-CREDIT course.  There should be absolutely no incentive to cheat.  Students who choose not to submit any essays still have access to the class lectures and all other resources in the course.  Students who do cheat receive no tangible gain as a result.

The whole point of the class is that it's an entirely voluntary and free shared experience undertaken for the sheer love of learning.  The good news is that virtually all of the people who responded to my thread are as mortified and baffled by the cheating as I am, and a number of my fellow students are calling for the course administrators to act on this.

As for me, I don't know why I care since there's nothing real at stake here. I'm not sure why I'm so disturbed to discover snakes have infested this scholarly Garden of Eden; but I am.  A lot.


  1. Oh, Mr. Henley, it happens every day in my world...students copy from Wikipedia and then they wonder why they get caught. As I always tell them, if it was easy for you to find and copy and paste, it's just as easy for your professor to find it and fail you.

  2. Hey Laurie, I just learned that there are a number of websites where you can cut and paste chunks of text and learn if they're taken from other sources. is just one of them. I'm sure you already knew that, but it was news to me.

  3. We use SafeAssign, which is administered through Blackboard.