ConUHacks: winners’ submission sparks outrage online

The team found themselves at the center of controversy after winning first place

The winning team of Concordia’s ConUHacks event came under fire last weekend after accusations of violating competition rules were posted online.

ConUHacks, the event which the project was produced for, is a yearly competition during which teams must conceptualize and code an application in only 24 hours to impress judges and potentially win prizes. This “hackathon” is primarily organized by Concordia’s HackConcordia club.

NearByNow, the winning submission, was accused of being presented to judges under false pretence and omitting key lines of code to prove its authenticity. This led to an investigation into the validity of the winners’ application.

Although the accusations were proven false, the winning coders are now worried of online harassment. 

“I was confused. We all were,” said Samuel Chuang, a fourth-year computer science student at Concordia and one member of the winning team. “Honestly, I had to think to myself, maybe we did do something wrong.”

Chuang said everything went well during the competition, leaving the judges impressed. Their hard work was rewarded with first place. 

Six days later, Chuang found out about the controversy forming around their application.

A post on Concordia’s official Reddit page that called the team’s winning project fraudulent garnered the attention of many who had participated at the event. 

Soon, Chuang said he’d seen a post by an anonymous user on Concordia’s official engineering and computer science Discord server, suggesting users should flood the team’s LinkedIn pages with negative comments. 

“Hate on the project as much as you want but there’s a potential of ruining people’s reputation,”said Chuang.

Chuang and his team contacted Major League Hacking (MLH), who help run weekend-long hackathons like ConUHacks and partly oversee judgment. 

“We found what we would expect to see from a hackathon project built in just 24 hours,” said Ryan Swift, a member of the MLH who reviewed the team’s project.  

According to Swift, Chuang’s team was accused of faking the demonstration of their project. More specifically, by faking results given by the programmed A.I., which ran the application. They were also suspected of omitting the code which the A.I. had been programmed through- what’s known as a “neural network.” 

NearByNow shows users information about a storefront or company in real time once given a logo. This feature relies on multiple application programming interfaces (API), for example one from Google Maps. The A.I. then communicates with the API to produce the desired results. 

The neural network was not made public, which added to the accusers’ suspicions. Swift said his team verified its existence as well as its timestamps to confirm that it was coded during the hackathon. 

The team would also “hard-code” data given by the application. Hard-coding data means that the results given by the program are directly put into the code rather than obtained by prompts. According to Swift, this was done for simplicity’s sake and the team had done nothing to break the competition’s rules.

“Because they are developed in just a single weekend, hackers don’t typically follow industry-best practices,” said Swift. “Their projects are often laden with bugs, and many features aren’t fully completed.” 

Vatsa Shah, co-president of HackConcordia, the club responsible for organizing ConUHacks, said his team did not appreciate the public accusations of malicious intent towards the team. “Our team is always willing to investigate and review issues as they arise, but we prefer to do so in private specifically because of situations like this where public backlash can take over,” he said.

An official comment was written by the MLH under the original accusatory Reddit post stating that the investigation had been completed.


Explaining the complexity of the stock market with Lego minifigures

GameStop, Wall Street, and Reddit: a summary

By now you’ve probably seen what has been happening the past few weeks with GameStop, Wall Street, and Reddit.

Frankly, it’s a complex situation with some insane potential complications. Well, have no fear dear reader, for I am going to try and explain the situation in simple terms while still answering plenty of overarching questions.

First, an oversimplified explanation: users on a subreddit called r/wallstreetbets collectively decided to purchase GameStop (GME) stock in mass, which drove up the price per share and cost hedge funds who bet against GameStop lots of money.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain each part of that sentence.

Starting off, what is Reddit? It’s a social media site that focuses more on following communities rather than people. Imagine if Facebook only had groups, and your newsfeed was made solely of the groups you joined.

A group on Reddit is called a subreddit, they’re identified by starting with an r/. So for example a subreddit devoted to pictures of cute animals is called r/aww. Users are similarly identified by starting with u/.

These groups or subreddits are managed by moderators who manage the content for their group and establish rules for users to follow.

The subreddit in the spotlight is called r/wallstreetbets (Wall Street Bets). This group of self-described delinquents often use coarse language to make joke stocks into real purchases, often also posting the disastrous results of said jokes on their stock portfolios.

The subreddit’s description reads: “like 4chan found a Bloomberg terminal.” Their popularity exploded in April 2020 when the US stimulus checks for $600 landed, and lots of people decided to take that windfall to the trading floor to alleviate boredom and possibly make that $600 into something more reasonable.

Okay, now for the more technical stuff, the financial terminology.

r/wallstreetbets users employ a stock trading process called retail trading, which is the process of independent individuals purchasing small volumes of stock, the volume that a normal person is capable of (compared to a retirement portfolio or hedge fund, which have much more volume). They often use an app called Robinhood, which has had its problems with this community, but there are others from across the world. Essentially retail traders don’t trade stocks for a living, it’s more like purchasing a product, hence the terminology.

There is a process being employed by hedge funds and other Wall Street institutions called shorting a stock. Yes, it is the term “short” from the movie The Big Short, which is based on this mechanic. This process is why huge investment firms are losing money. It’s best explained in an analogy.

Imagine for a second that your friend collects Lego minifigures (the little plastic people). They have lots of different figures, ranging from Harry Potter all the way to Star Wars. You go onto eBay one day and see that this minifigure, the spaceman, is worth $10. You figure that the $10 is more than it will be worth in a year, after all the space race is over. Being the excellent friend you are, you ask to borrow the spaceman with the promise to return one to them in a year. They agree and lend you the figurine and you promptly sell it on eBay and pocket your $10, feeling pretty smug.

A year later you go onto eBay to fill your promise. One of two things is going to be true: 

1) Your original bet was right, the figure now costs $6, and once you purchase the figure to fulfill your obligation, you pocket a cool $4. Nice.

2) The SpaceX launches have increased the popularity of the spaceman, and now the figure costs $20 to replace. You made a promise so you’ve got to find the cash somewhere and just swallow the difference. Ouch. You’re out $10 from this transaction, but you made your promise so there’s that.

Here’s the fun part of that second scenario. The spaceman could cost anything, $20, $40, $100… You see the problem here. There’s no price ceiling. You could lose an infinite amount of money making your promise back. You only make money if the item goes down in price.

Institutional investors have been shorting GameStock stock for years. They believed that the retail games store would only fall farther and farther off, making them money. 

Up until a few days ago, that continued to be true. The members of r/wallstreetbets agreed to purchase large volumes of GameStop stock, driving up the price. This is basic economics; the more people want something, especially if there’s a limited quantity, the more money it’s worth.

The coordinated effort by the r/wallstreetbets community resulted in a stock price hike from about $77 on Jan. 25 to a peak of almost $350 on Jan. 27. That’s a 354 per cent increase.

So if you had a large bet that the GameStop price would keep going down and the day comes that your bet is due, and you saw that the price went up hundreds-fold, you’d be out a lot of money, and that’s exactly what happened.



Graphic by @ihooqstudio

GameStock: the digital revolt of the Third Estate

What are we investing in next?

Scrap New Year’s resolutions, I’m starting a new February resolution: getting financial advice from r/WallStreetBets.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the havoc that Redditors have wreaked on the fortune of some hedge fund owners over the past week. The David and Goliath metaphor has been frequently used to describe small investors’ move to purchase GameStop (GME) stocks in hopes of taking down companies like Melvin Capital, who has lost $4.5 billion since the beginning of the month.

There has been pushback on both sides, with some saying this is just more evidence that short selling should be considered illegal, while others think rallying hordes of people to pump up the price of a stock should be considered ‘market manipulation’, which is already illegal.

What stands out to me the most in this whole fiasco is the sheer magnitude of what a group of people were able to accomplish with just their phones and a good Wi-Fi connection. 

We’re at a point in the digital era where internet users are understanding the power of public forums. Instead of being used for just individual support, these platforms are now able to reach and rally enough people to topple billion dollar hedge funds.

The internet is still in its stage of infancy; it’s still new to the world and has only recently become understood as a powerful voice for the common people. The Arab Spring in the early 2010s showed how social media could be used to carry and spread a political message more effectively than ever before.

And beyond being used as a way to round up support for a political cause, more and more people are making various types of media primary didactic tools. Recently, platforms like TikTok and Reddit have increasingly shifted into a go-to place for expert advice about anything, from legal counseling to, well, stock market investment advice.

We’ve first used the internet as a way to fast-track globalization, in connecting people from all over the world. Now that this concept is firmly anchored into our lives, online spaces are transforming into democratizing tools. 

We’re seeing a growing focus on bringing people’s strengths together to overcome others’ weaknesses and empower the ‘small guys’. The phrase “Twitter/TikTok, do your thing” to bring attention to an issue or a cause has become common on both platforms.

The soaring stock prices brought along by Redditors is more evidence of an internet revolution. Individuals mobilizing to take down Goliath-like organizations is nothing new, but it’s never been so easy to find advocates for a cause, let alone to incite action on it.

GameStop investors have begun chasing after other stocks targeted by short sellers, now attempting to short squeeze the silver trade. 

This has never happened before. Economists are uncertain what happens after a takeover like this, all possible outcomes for hedge funds and shareholders are hypothetical. But inspired by the principle behind what we’ve seen with GME, I predict more such gatherings are going to take place throughout 2021.

In the meantime, you can catch me scrolling through my newly downloaded Reddit app seeking stock symbols to invest in next.



Graphic by Taylor Reddam.


Just a sci-fi girl in an apathetic world

How attending Comiccon helped me find community

Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me knows I’m a horror junkie. Even as a kid, I grasped onto any opportunity to feast my eyes on something that would permanently maim me. When I was just barely 10-years-old, I cherished sleepovers at my grandparents’ house because my grandmother would take me to the video store and let me pick out any DVD I wanted.

At home, I was never allowed to watch anything rated PG-13 or higher. I was sequestered while adults watched movies that all my friends had seen, like Titanic or Grease, until I hit double digits. My parents deemed Kate Winslet’s nipples and hickeys from Kenickie as content far too inappropriate for my prepubescent eyes.

My mom’s parents were never the sheltering type, though. Nor were they fond of enforcing strict bedtimes. The first horror movie I remember watching was in their basement, shortly after midnight, both of them fast asleep on the couch beside me. It was Child’s Play—often colloquially referred to as Chucky. The film is a 1988 Tom Holland slasher (the first of seven in the series) about a possessed doll who terrorizes a little boy and his mother. To an adult, it’s a fun, vulgar, slightly cheesy hour and a half. As a child, it was virtually my worst nightmare—and I couldn’t get enough.

Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find others that shared my dark taste in cinema, especially as I got older. From supernatural scares at seventh grade slumber parties, to ninth grade torture porn marathons, to Marble Hornets binges during senior year, I found that most of my friends shared this interest of mine (or at least tolerated it). I’m guilty of making a good handful of boys sit through the classics with me. My first relationship started in my family’s dingy basement, kissing on an old couch while the credits rolled on Friday the 13th. Our hearts pounded in our ears as a result of teen hormones, but mostly because of that insane shot where Jason Voorhees’ decomposing body shoots out of the water and totally wrecks Adrienne King.

The thing with horror is that, while it’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, it’s become relatively accepted. It’s not hard to find people to bond over it with. Yes, an obsession with it might be off-kilter, but it still makes for good conversation, pizza night entertainment, and background noise for makeout sessions. Throughout my 20-something years, I never really considered my interest in horror to be “nerdy”. It was so vast and varied as a genre that I wasn’t forced to identify with a particular group. There was something in it for almost everyone. Before last summer, I hadn’t truly known what it was like to be into something that few people understood.

About a year ago, I discovered The X-Files—a sci-fi television show about two FBI agents who investigate cases that deal with the supernatural. I had always been generally aware of The X-Files. I knew it existed. Most people I knew had either tuned in occasionally when it originally aired in the 90s, or had seen an episode or two on Netflix and given up. One night, I came across it in my “Top Picks” and decided to give it a chance. It was one of those rare occasions where, from episode one, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. Everything about it screamed “me”. I promptly reached out to anyone and everyone I knew and was shocked to find that literally no one in my personal life thought anything of it. Not only did the show not stand out to them as special, but some people even admitted outright that they hated it.

Aside from a few other fans I found in real life who I texted during major plot twists, watching The X-Files was a completely solitary experience for me. I watched each of the 11 seasons and two films all by myself. Because of this, my experience of the show was very private in nature. It felt like my dirty little secret—an escape of sorts. I spent hours laughing, crying, and gasping in front of my television screen during popcorn-fueled binge sessions after the rest of my family went to bed. I became deeply attached to the characters. Unlike horror movies, it was the first time I had an obsession that I couldn’t share. It truly felt like the show had been created for me, and the fact that I had no one to experience it with was both entirely uplifting and mildly heartbreaking.

Up until this point, I had little-to-no experience with nerd culture. I’d never picked up a comic book, I didn’t really like anime, I’d seen only a handful of superhero movies, and I thought “gaming” was something that 30-year-old white guys with neckbeards did in their moms’ basements while double fisting Mountain Dew and Doritos. Plus, I had always associated nerd culture with sexism. In my mind, “nerdy” spaces were cesspools of male cliques firing off condescending remarks and participating in sexual harassment. I wanted no part of it.

Nearly every time I clicked into an online forum discussing The X-Files, my preconceived notions of these spaces were instantly validated. I simply didn’t feel welcome. This was jarring, especially considering the feminist tones of the show. I was annoyed and I concluded it was an interest I’d just keep to myself. But, it was lonely. I wanted so badly to be a part of a community I could share it with.

When I was first offered the opportunity to attend Montreal Comiccon as a member of the media this year, I was skeptical. I wanted to go to see if I could find fellow “X-Philes,” but I knew I’d have to write up something about the convention, and I didn’t want to have to write a scathing review about a toxic environment. Boy, were my preconceived notions ever wrong.

Montreal Comiccon completely shifted my perspective on what it means to be a nerd. It channeled what the true spirit of what being a “nerd” really is. I mean, where else on earth can you walk into a room full of strangers by yourself and instantly feel completely welcome and at ease? Where else can someone who is in love with an odd, campy, 90s television show about aliens find a thousand other people who feel the same way?

Walking into a room full of hundreds of “X-Philes,” I felt the most included and myself I had in a long time. It also made me realize that nerds weren’t all straight, white men in cargo shorts tweeting about #GamerGate and quoting The Big Bang Theory. Nerds were 10-year-old girls, drag queens, disabled people, gay couples, women of colour… I suddenly realized that this thing—this series that I had turned into such a private indulgence—was far bigger than just my secret obsession. These characters that I had developed one-sided relationships with weren’t just mine, they were ours. They helped us all relate to one another.

Comiccon takes a person’s private experience with art and makes it social. The main reason people attend is to meet other people and find those who love the same stuff they do. Making friends only gets harder as you age, so finding somewhere you can be yourself, express gratitude to the artists behind your favourite work, and meet people from different walks of life with shared interests is something pretty special.

There will always be cliques, fandoms, and rivalries. We will always be into different kinds of art. We’ll always experience that art differently from one another. Comiccon showcases that perfectly, but also reminds us that, at the end of the day, we’re all just huge freakin’ nerds. Together.

Graphic by Wednesday Laplante

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