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Caught In The Act

On Thursday, the Silicon Valley tech company Palantir came to the UW to give a “Tech Talk,” a self-promotional display of technology used to get CSE students interested in working for the company. The talk is usually accompanied by food and, sometimes, raffle prizes. I decided to attend because I figured I would be hungry around 5:30 (definitely true), and I had heard lots of good things about the people at Palantir and what they were doing.

The food, as it turns out, was pretty good — we got to make our own tacos, and I greatly appreciated it. However, I had a 6:30 class, and was unable to stay until the end of the talk, which I heard went until about 7:00. This is where it gets interesting.

At the beginning of the talk, the Palantir folks passed around a cup into which we were to drop our names to win a fabulous iPod touch. Being all about gaming the system, I decided to enter my name several times — six or seven times, that is — using varried sizes of paper. Furthermore, I went around with the cup, allowing other to place their names in it, before placing my own names into the cup, to give me a superior placement within the cup. Apparently my techniques were effective — very effective.

In fact, I won the raffle. Or at least, my name was drawn first. However, because I had to be present to win, and instead I was attending my 6:30-9:30 Programming Languages lecture, I did not actually win. So they placed my name aside and drew again. And then my name was drawn, again. I still was not present, so I still did not win. Finally, someone who was present did win, and the raffle ended.

It seems that my actions grated on at least a few people, although the student who reported the incident was “nice” (?) enough to omit my name, while nevertheless accusing me of having no integrity. I decided to thank him or her for the post, and take full responsibility for my actions in a comment to the post.

But, I would like to hear from my readers as well: Were my actions unethical? Am I a shmuck? Should I be ashamed of myself? (Right now I’m not.)

6 Responses to “Caught In The Act”

  1. ben Says:

    Well IMO you were unethical in regards to implied rules. The group (or at least a large portion of the group) believed that one should only supply their name once, allowing everyone there an equal chance. Furthermore even you admitted that you “gamed” the system – i.e. you did not play by the implied rules and rather attempted to improve your odds. Although this is wise in a selfish way, it may not prove to be optimal from a social-cultural point of view. By having multiple “names” and increasing your odds, you may have prevented someone, who legitimately played by the implied rules, of winning – which is not optimal for community/cultural standing as you are experiencing negative feedback from peers.

    But, putting this all into context, it is not the same as deciding whether to use land-mines and uniformed armies versus using terrorism and improvised explosive devices.

    Whether you chose to feel ashamed is a rather more personal matter…

  2. ben Says:

    And something else that needs to be added into the discussion above is that there were no “published” or agreed upon rules – just implied social-cultural standards.

  3. Shai Says:

    My thoughts are that if there are no explicit rules, it’s fair game. Methinks they will likely be a little bit more careful in future raffles.

  4. Stickman Says:

    Jerk. Why didn’t you put my name in there?

  5. nordsieck Says:

    My initial comment was turning into a blog post so I will just say this:

    1. You ethical system should be designed to maximize your lifetime expected value.

    2. People are very bad at predicting the full effects of their actions.

  6. Isaac Says:

    Damn those terrorists for insisting on making their own explosive devices and not using land mines like the rest of us decent, honest, upright folk. And then they have the nerve to keep making innocent civilians walk over the mines for them!

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