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Design of Competition Decorations for my Teaching Assistantship

March 28, 2009

My teaching assistantship for the sophomore mechanical engineering design class at Georgia Tech is wrapping up; the final design competition was this past Friday and all that the students now have left to do are their final presentations and hand in their final reports.  The final competition was fun, and one of my section’s teams made it to the final round!!  I was pretty pround of all of them, as there were seven total sections and our section was one win shy of being the section with the most wins, across the whole competition bracket.

Several months ago, the professor had all the T.A.’s and the section professors meet up to brainstorm ideas for the theme of the competition.  He told us that past themes have usually related to a current event of some sort.  I immediately blurted out, “BAILOUT U.S.A.!,” and thus, the theme for the competition was born.

The “arena” in which four teams would simultaneously compete to win the round is shown here: 


They had to construct machines which would start from the “Home” platform outside the arena and then perform the following tasks (full competition rules here):

  • Deposit “salary balls” into the “bank” at the center of the arena.  The bank is a two foot diameter, one foot high drum with a one foot hole in the middle of its top.  The bank is rotating, and there are four “swindler” bowling pins affixed to the rim of the bank.  Thus, their machines–to be reliably successful at performing the ball depositing task–must ‘avoid the swindlers which are trying to steal their salary.’
  • Collect bonuses: there are Payday and 100 Grand candy bars on the diagonal zone borders.  More money can be earned if the machine is able to pull these candy bars fully into their zone; the money is split two ways between the teams if the candy bars are still on the zone border.
  • Avoid the Repo Men: there are two bowling pins–“repo men”–directly in front of the team’s starting platform, set one foot apart from each other.  The teams must knock them over to avoid a heavy penalty, but if they are knocked over and still in their zone, they still lose points.  Thus, the teams must all try to clear all of the repo men out of their zone, and into the other team’s zones, in order to mazimize their team’s point gain and their competitor’s point loss.
  • Collect gold coins: ten Rolo candies are on the top of the bank drum, between each of the swindlers.  Pulling them off of the bank and into their zone earns them money.

Having suggested the overall theme, I would have liked to see the tasks which the teams had to perform adjusted to reflect my personal views of this bailout business…  But the head professor of the course took the lead in developing the tasks and relating them to the theme I suggested.  However, the head Teaching Assistant later assigned me the task of creating the “bank” and “swindler” decorations for the final competition.  Through this decoration task, I was able to flex my creative talent to convey my opinion that this bailout business is balderdash.

First, my personal opinion of this bailout activity…  The purpose of this bailout is purportedly to ‘get the economy back on track’ so our wealth creation won’t be contracted, as it has become.  Well: a good portion of the ‘stimulus’ is subsidizing choices which destroyed wealth.  I don’t see how that could help to create wealth.  A large number of people contributed to this problem by overextending themselves on credit.  But our national plan now appears to be: buy more things on national credit.  This will give a temporary high to the businesses which our leaders believe deserve ‘stimulation.’  Taxpayers can’t be given anything by the government which wasn’t taken from them in the first place, so selling any of these plans as being ‘in the people’s interest’ is silly: it’s just adding a nice thick layer of government bureaucracy to the process of spending money.  It boils down to an enormous transfer of wealth from taxpaying Americans to favored institutions and favored people.  And I think that something which is even more important to consider than this current fiscal injustice is what these government interventions are doing to the relationship between the government and business.  America’s mostly free markets gives individual citizens the freedom to pursue whatever products they deem to be most beneificial to their lives.  It is precisely this vigorous, distributed decision making with constant competition for consumer’s attention which has allowed us to greatly improve our lives.  These new economic interventions are decidedly not within this model.  The free market model serves us very well in allowing us to work and trade with each other to improve our lives.  But these new interventions reject that relationship among consumers and replaces it with the economics of centralized planning: officials now decide how vast amounts of resources are to be allocated, while the citizens are to have faith that these “czars” (as they are being called) have more wisdom in distributing wealth than millions of consumers acting independantly.  It is not hard to see that on the spectrum of economic freedom, those citizens in countries whose markets are more free have better standards of living.  These “stimulus” activities are moving us backwards on that continuum, towards less freedom.

So, that’s my opinion of this ‘bailout’ business.  But how am I to translate my opinion into decorations for this competition? 

First, I turned the plastic bowling pins given to me into four swindlers: 


I originally had planned on printing out faces of various officials and CEO’s who have been involved in this ‘swindle,’ but rejected this idea for the reason that an image printed on paper would not conform well to a bowling pin with a circular cross section, and would not look very professional.  I decided to just paint a shady-looking face on the pin.    Acrylic and spray paints were used to make these, and face outlines, lettering, and pants/shoes were done in black sharpie marker on top of the paint itself.  The pins themselves had ridges around the neck of the pin, and I thought these would serve nicely as the brim of a top-hat on the swindler’s head.  I also gave the swindler a very large white chest on which I painted a short phrase summarizing the swindle.  Since there were four swindlers on top of each bank, I made four phrases to put on the pins.  ‘All Your Banks are Belong to Us!’ of course refers to the popular internet meme (I plan on making an ‘All Your Banks’ video in the near future as some good practice with my new copy of Photoshop Elements 6.  Sure, you can rip my idea off, but my video will be so superior in creativity that your video will have no chance to survive make your time).

Next, I created the decorations for the sides of the cylindrical “banks.”  Since this bailout baloney is decidedly moving us away from distributed decision making and individual choice in consumption and fiscal responsibility, I dragged that trend to its logical conclusion for my audience:


I selected four of the prominent names in finance/insurance which had received bailout money and aimed to show that their business decisions will not be made by those institutions anymore–that is part of the old economy model of individual choice–those institutions will now be guided by “the people,” since they have accepted “the people’s money.”  Of course the cyrillic lettering, color scheme, phrasing and word-choice serves to remind us of the acme of centralized planning: the USSR.  These wrapper decorations were designed in powerpoint on two separate slides and the slide size was adjusted to fit the bank when printed.  Images were positioned such that a bank image was centered under each swindler.   

The powerpoint slides, printed out on a plotter on the campus of Georgia Tech, were taped to the bank with clear packing tape.  I then covered them with a clear protective film of 0.008″ thick PVC type I ordered from Mcmaster-Carr.  This protected them from all the machines which would be running into them throughout the competition.  Under construction:


On the track:


 At the competition (Team Roger Federer–the fellows in the white tennis outfits–were the team from my section who made it to the finals!  Their name, decorations, and get-ups were pretty clever; they used a big basket of tennis balls which was released to roll through the arena to disrupt competitors–which itself was a clever idea which worked well for them.):


I learned a bit about acrylic and spray paint in the course of this project, which I had used to decorate the swindlers.  It does not adhere to plastic very well; the swindlers which had been subjected to a week of competition-practice-abuse by the students needed a touch-up of their paint coats before they were used in the final competition.  I was told by a local art supply store retailer that enamel paint will hold up better to abuse.  Additionally, drawing on acrylic paint with a sharpie marker seems to quickly clog the marker tip or dry it out to the point of not being able to be used…  After a brief bit of writing on the acrylic paint with the marker in one position in my hand, I would have to start rotating the marker around in my hand to expose the paint to a new surface on the marker tip which had not been “sucked dry” yet.  Odd.


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