INFORMING THE GLOBE - INFORMS Annual Meeting San Diego 2009 bkgd INFORMS Annual Meeting San Diego, October 11-14, 2009
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Academic OR Contributions on Corporate Blogs?

by Maarten Oosten

In a short time blogging and twittering have taken a great flight. The art of effectively using these tools as part of all kind of business processes is still taking shape, and there are many opportunities for OR to prove being a valuable part of this art. There were several appealing examples of this already during the conference. Fang Fang captured this earlier in her blogs “The Trend of Social Networking. Isn’t it great?” and “Great Keynote Speech by Irwin Jacobs (QualComm)” so there is no need for me to repeat this.

But in addition, the OR community can use this trend of blogging and twittering to her advantage in a more direct way. I got a bit of a wakeup call by putting together the following two rather obvious observations:

  1. These days every self respecting company maintains a corporate blog, showing evidence of their thought leadership. Such blogs require a steady flow of new content.
  2. Almost all OR articles start with an introduction justifying the research with the relevance and potential impact of the topic at hand, and by en large I believe this to be true.

It would only be logical if we started seeing these value statements of OR research appearing as host contributions on corporate blogs. Of course such contributions would not contain mathematical proofs. Instead they would articulate the contribution of the OR work by placing it in the context of the company’s vision on innovation. The fact that a company is willing to host this contribution on their blogs is tangible evidence of the relevance of the authors’ work.

Maybe this is already happening and I have not been paying attention. Either way I am starting to realize I have not been smart about this. In addition to generating corporate blog content myself, I should look around, identify the research that is relevant for my company, and invite the researchers to post a contribution on our corporate blog.  I have some work to do!

Packing Up

by Jim Cochran

I had a great time at the 2009 INFORMS yesterday. As part of the MINDSET project, I travelled with Ken Chelst, Dave Goldsman, Tom Edwards, and R. Jean Ruth to the San Dieguito Acadamey in Encinitas to work with local area high school math teachers on integrating operations research into their curricula. The audience was very receptive, asked many questions, and appeared to be genuinely excited about bringing operations research to their students at a meaningful (i.e., not superficial) level. When my contribution ended, I was sent by one of the participating teachers to the Principal’s office (déjà vu) – to arrange for a cab to bring me back to the convention center.

Later in the day I met with Barry List (INFORMS Director of Communications) to record a podcast on sports and operations research. As always, Barry was well prepared and did an excellent job with this task. Pete Horner (Editor of both ORMS Today and Analytics) will also provide me with an opportunity to contribute a short related item to Analytics.

Earlier in the day Barry had also run a PR grass roots workshop designed to help INFORMS members (and subdivision officers in particular) gain greater recognition for their work. Barry outlined strategies for getting exposure for various operations research-related efforts through coverage in news and feature stories by local publications, TV, and Internet news sources. I wish I could have participated in this session, but this workshop conflicted with my road trip to Encinitas.

Before dinner I attended a terrific meeting of the SpORts subdivision. In addition to a brief discussion of subdivision business issues, the meeting featured a presentation by Chris Long (the Senior Quantitative Analyst for the San Diego Padres). Chris gave a very interesting talk on quantitative issues he addresses in his role with the Padres and suggested several promising areas of research.

I am on my way to what promises to be a fascinating session organized by Mike Fry on “Operations Research Applications for Elections.” After a quick stop in the exhibit hall, I will be off to the San Diego International Airport for the trip back to Louisiana. I have enjoyed catching up with many of you at this conference and seeing many presentations of interesting research, and I wish each of you a safe and uneventful trip home.

The second interactive session. The winner is…

by Fang Fang

“Simulation and Optimization of Nurse-to-Patient Assignments.” by Durai Sundaramoorthi from Missouri Western State University.
I would have to say that there were way too many interesting topics and the presenters all have done a great job. I love them all. I believe that there should be multiple winners. However, there was only one. Great job, Durai and all the presenters!

In addition, I want to thank all the judges for the great job they have done. Erica and I really appreciated it. :)

How easy is it being green?

by Matt Saltzman

When I started coming to ORSA/TIMS meetings (lo, these many years
ago), the programs were printed on 5×8-inch stock.  This year’s
program, with four times the area per page, is thicker than in those
days–almost as big as my laptop and probably weighing almost as

This year, I decided to participate in INFORMS’s Go Green initiative
and forgo my printed program.  The advantages were clear: the printed
program is bulky and heavy and inconvenient to carry around.  It’s not
searchable.  When I get home, it takes up space on my increasingly
crowded bookshelves.  And not taking it contributes (even just a
little bit) to preserving our environment.  (Seen on a T-shirt: Save
the earth–it’s the only planet with chocolate.)

There are disadvantages, though.  The electronic substitute is a
collection of PDFs that are downloadable from the conference Web
pages.  Even if you’re sitting down, scanning PDFs on a computer
screen in an attempt to emulate the way one usually scans the paper
program is not all that pleasant or effective.  PDFs are searchable,
but 8×11-inch aspect page images are not laid out well for a laptop
monitor.  Browsing the program while standing around during coffee
break or while sitting in the back in a session is very inconvenient
on a laptop.

I considered putting the PDFs on my iPhone.  That’s relatively easy in
the comfort of my home wireless LAN, but I didn’t get to it before I
left, and it’s not so easy (at least with the app I use) when out in
the wild.  Also, while the format is readable on the iPhone, the
window on the page is only big enough to display the information about
a single session.  It’s very hard to get the “big picture” of even a
single page, much less across all the tracks in a session.  The
two-column format makes it impossible to scroll quickly, and scrolling
to the last period of a full day of sessions takes a lot of screen
stroking.  (And in some parts of the Hilton, there’s no signal from
AT&T.  Ouch!)

I can imagine an app (that runs locally on the device, in case there’s
no network connection available).  It displays the program as lists of
sessions, or as lists of sessions with sublists of talk titles and
authors’ names.  It allows the reader to expand a session tab to see
full information including abstracts.  Sessions are selected
individually or filtered by track or cluster or time slot, and
selected sessions can be displayed in isolation (sort of like the
current online program’s itinerary feature).  It might even integrate with
your online calendar, so you’d get alerts for selected sessions.  It’s
portable across platforms, running on Windows, OS X, and Linux laptops
and on various smart phones.  And it’s fully searchable.

Now, that electronic program would be a compelling replacement for the
paper program.

[Mike, thanks for the bag photo.  Unfortunately, I couldn't upload it.]


by Matt Saltzman

I can’t resist following up on this:

The 2009 COIN-OR Cup has been awarded to a team from Queens University and Cornell University: Yuri Levin, Tatsiana Levina, Jeff McGill, Mikhail Nediak and Huseyin Topaloglu.  These researchers have applied various COIN-OR technologies in their research on techniques for cargo capacity management and dynamic pricing applications.

Congratulations to the winners!

The celebration at the Rock Bottom Brewery was very well attended,.  The winners received the requisite tacky tourist cups, and a good time was had by all.  Thanks to IBM for sponsoring the celebration.

Last chance to see the great posters at Exhibit Hall H this noon

by Fang Fang

Hi, everyone, I want to remind you that the last interactive session of this INFORMS meeting starts soon. Please stop by before the Exhibit Hall H of the convention center, where you can also get free WiFi access. Yesterday, we have great presentations which are really really mind-blowing. I feel so sorry that we can only pick one winner. :( I have no doubt that today’s poster would be great too. Stop by and interact with the authors. Wish you, too, can be inspired. :)

Great Keynote Speech by Irwin Jacobs (QualComm)

by Fang Fang

Just came back from the Keynote Speech by Mr. Irwin Jacobs, Founder of Qualcomm. He presented a great series of leading wireless technologies which has impacted economy globally. It was truly an eye opener. It is also another support for my previous argument that Technologies enables and supports business processes, which should be considered a inseparable part when you study the operations management in an organization. The title of the speech was “Informing the globe with wireless: Innovation and Impact.” — This further reminds me that the role of “INNOVATION” emphasized by the Dean of Rady School of Management, UCSD. Keeping innovating would be the key to get us out of this recession. Right on!!

Edelman Reprise: Hewlett Packard

by Maarten Oosten

One of the Monday highlights to me was the Keynote Edelman Reprise, showcasing the winner of the Edelman Award 2009. In this session the emphasis is on showcasing the value OR brings. This is a skill we all need and I still have a lot to learn. It is not the elegance and depth of the methods, but the value and the impact of the solution that attracts people’s attention and earns the appreciation.  This is true in marketing our own field, showing how to do good with OR for example. But it is also true when teaching students or courting potential customers.

A statement that resonated with me concerned the observation that the Hewlett Packard OR team had to bridge an organizational divide between marketing and supply chain. In pricing, a field I consider my home turf, we run into this type of situation often. When working with marketing or product management departments on the one hand and teams responsible for production scheduling or inventory management on the other hand, it is not uncommon to find that these folks barely know each other. Part of our job is to make these teams work together. Sometimes it seems that therapeutic value of OR is more essential then the actual OR we perform.

I also very much liked the method of selecting which SKUs to drop from the line up. The method is very elegant but, perhaps more importantly, the argument why the method is better is very well articulated in business terms: it makes common sense to look at the number of orders you can fulfill with your product portfolio instead of using an individual product statistic such as revenue per SKU.

If you picked up the Edelman Award CD I’d recommend taking some time reviewing it. It’s much better than my blog. If you did not pick up the CD yet, then here is something you could do sometime the coming two days:

Make sure you pick up your free copy of the Edelman Award CD at the INFORMS booth!

Today’s winner of the Interactive Session is…

by Erica Klampfl

The Interactive Session is off to a great start!  Thank you very much to all of the presenters for high quality poster submissions.  There was stiff competition for the winner of today’s Interactive Session, but we are happy to congratulate Turgay Ayer from the University of Wisconsin and his colleagues Oguzhan Alagoz, Natasha Stout, and Elizabeth Burnside for winning Monday’s poster award of $750.  Please see the title and abstract for this poster below:

Operations Research for Early Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: Breast cancer is the most common cancer and second leading cause of death among US women. When detected early through screening, the disease is effectively curable. Although mammography is the most common screening modality, its false negative and false positive rates are high. We build an artificial neural network (ANN) to improve the accuracy of risk prediction in mammography reading and a partially observable Markov decision process(POMDP) model to optimize mammography decisions.

 We are looking forward to tomorrow’s competition, so please join us from 12:30 – 1:30 in Exhibit Hall H!  You can check out the abstracts for the posters ahead of time at starting on page 273.

Today’s update and an lost item announcement

by Hari Balasubramanian

Finished my second presentation today — had one yesterday and have one more tomorrow. My session went well. I called it “Healthcare Potpourri” because it had a talk on modeling diversions in an emergency department, two talks on the operational issues that health insurance companies face, and one talk on measuring surgeon productivity. The dicussion was good. This was partly because the talks were not math-intensive (a good thing, I feel, for there is little an audience get out of a mathematical presentation in 20 minutes).

I had curry cravings right after, and headed straight to Masala, the fancy-looking Indian restaurant less than half a mile from the Hilton. And the afternoon has been all about chatting with colleagues.

And finally an announcement for a friend, Nat, who has lost her bag. Here’s her description:

“Red bag with stationary and 2 USB drives. Might have forgotten at Odysea 2nd floor at Hilton Hotel. Please contact me at 480-516-2790″

Fellows Luncheon

by Michael Trick

I just got back from the Fellows Luncheon.  The INFORMS Fellows are recognized for having made significant contributions to the field of operations research and the management sciences (be it in research, practice, service, administration, or education).  It is an extremely impressive group, and I very much enjoy the lunch, since conversation around the table is generally both insightful and entertaining.

I was President of INFORMS the year the Fellows program began, so I got to welcome the inaugural group.  To get the Fellows program started off, some classifications of people were automatically made Fellows.  So, for instance, all the past winners of the John von Neumann Theory Prize were automatically made Fellows.  When it came to past Presidents of the organization, the rule was pretty explicit:

[Fellows would be] all past Presidents of TIMS, ORSA, and INFORMS up to but not including Michael Trick (*)

Ummmm… OK.  I think I was the only person explicitly declared not to be a Fellow!  It made sense at the time “Don’t want to vote for yourself, you know!”, and they did make me a Fellow a few years later.

Now, no one gets in automatically:  every new Fellow is selected by the Selection Committee.  This year’s class is a very impressive group:  Aharon Ben-Tal, Srinivas Bollapragada, Margaret Brandeau, Awi Federgruen, Nimrod Megiddo, David B. Montgomery, Michael Pinedo, Kathryn E. Stecke, John Tomlin, Garrett van Ryzin, and C.F. Jeff Wu.  The fact that eleven were made Fellows is not arbitrary:  the number is limited by a certain fraction of the size of the membership.  When I checked the list of Fellows, I was struck by some of the amazing people who are not yet Fellows:  we still have years and years of amazing classes to induct.

You get to be a Fellow by getting nominated, and then getting elected by the selection committee (which is voted on by the current Fellows).  If you know someone who should be a Fellow (or think you should be!), the next round of nominations will be due next summer.

A few points that struck me during the lunch

  1. The more members we have, the more Fellows we can elect;  this process would be easier if we had more members
  2. It would be nice for Fellows to do something more than have a nice lunch and beget more Fellows:  the group is a great, underutilized resource
  3. It was fantastic to see a number of the older Fellows who came in specially for the lunch.   Our field has a great history (and future!) and it was good to be reminded of that history with the extremely impressive people in the room.

(*) Not the exact wording, but it was pretty close to that!

Data Miners address Health Challenges

by Mary Crissey

For the second year running our Data Mining Section has offered a competition to attract friendly interaction and have some fun “Digging thru data”.  Teams solve or “score” the stated predictive modeling problem with data provided in collaboration with Health Care Intelligence  .  Focusing on health care quality , contestants were given access to Data sets that were composed of sequences of hospital discharge data. 

 The challenge had two parts.   

Task 1: Model the transfer decision (from one hospital to another)

Task 2: Predict mortality. 

This year we had 250 teams register for the contest.  26 teams submitted their results in the given 4 week deadline.  Certificates were presented to the winners during the Saturday workshop and three of the finalists will share their analysis in Tuesdays Session TD08 in convention center room 24C at 4:30pm. You can read about the problem description and find the WINNERS listed on   this website.    

 I’d like give my personal call out of “ Thanks”  to  Nick Street of Iowa State – our first organizer of the data mining contest last year – because I credit him with the recruitment of a brilliant new member to our INFORMS community.    Claudia Perlich, of IBM, brings years of active involvement with the ACM society (a multiyear KDD cup winner) – but had never considered joining or attending an INFORMS event — until Nick Street’s contest.   Here in San Diego  she is an active volunteer, you will find her  chairing TD08 , as well as presenting with her team in the reprise of the Edelman finalist session TC26.   Do stop by and welcome her!

Do you have friends who are not yet INFORM members – perhaps in other professional societies?  Please encourage them to share their analytical contributions – and join INFORMS!  It’s the multi disciplinary aspect to our profession that adds value and gives us strategic perspective to addressing critical issues such as National Health Care today.

The Trend of Social Networking. Isn’t it great?

by Fang Fang

Saturday night, in the membership meeting reception, Gary introdcued the new INFORMS website, which utilized a ton of social networking functions. Now I am doing this blog thing and I feel it is great. Isn’t the changing technology one of the best things ever happened to us? However, what is really the business value of social networking? Why people want to blog? How does it diffuse? There are so many questions remaining, that prohibit people to take the full advantage of this emerging technology.

CIST presented its best paper awards yesterday. The best student paper award and the best conference paper award winners both provided great insight on this issue.

The best student paper: “Informational Value of Social Networks: An Empirical Study of Online Peer-to-Peer Lending” by Mingfeng Lin address the issue of micro lending via social networks.

The best conference paper “Consumer Choice in an online music community” by Jui Ramaprasad and Sanjeev Dewan addressed how people share musics via social networks.

I am sure there will be many more such topics coming. So exciting and so looking forward. Any comments people? Any OM research on social networking yet? Please feed me in.

Information Systems Society Distinguished Fellow

by Fang Fang

As I mentioned in the last post. The field of Information Systems is a young and interdisciplinary area which is closely related to OR/MS. Yesterday, during the lunch meeting, the Information Systems Society (ISS) gives out ISS fellow awards to some of the distinguished people who have made SIGNIFICANT impact to this emerging field. Some of them, in their restless career even oversaw the emerging of this field and helped to bring this field to where it is now. I feel great need to acknowledge those people on our conference blog: (Sorry about my lossy photograph skills)

  • Izak Benbasat

  • Gordon Davis:
  • Andrew Whinston (My endearing Supervisor):
  • Haim Mendelson:
  • Prabuddha De:
  • Robert Zmud:

Managing Information Systems to support business activities – The CIST Workshop

by Fang Fang

The Conference on Information Systems and Technology associated with INFORMS started on Saturday morning and ended successfully last night. There were many great presentations addressing very important business questions: how does the cutting-edge technologies and systems support the information supply chain in and outside the organization and reshaping businesses. There is no doubt that Information Systems Management is closely related to Operations Management and Management Science. It is one of the greatest drives to allow efficiency in supply chain management. Therefore, I feel that the large audience of INFORMS should also be “informed” of what’s going on in the Information Systems Community. The link to the conference website is Take a look and see the topics and papers which may inspire you. :)

How Green is a Boatload of Square Bananas?

by Maarten Oosten

This morning I managed to get an early morning run in, made possible by the two hour time lag between San Diego and home. A great opportunity to reflect on the conference and take in some of the San Diego scenery at the same time. San Diego sure is a nice city with some beautiful vistas. One minor glitch in the views that finally emerged (it is still pitch dark at 6AM) was a huge ship with apparently a boatload of bananas, going by the logo on the containers. I was trying to get my head around how many bananas we were looking at here and how many more bananas we could be looking at if only bananas were square or at least rectangular. The latter thought is inspired by the last slide of the Keynote presentation of Charles Cantor yesterday: ‘More Mathematics in the Future of Biotechnology’.

Although biotechnology is very different from the field of OR I am trying to make a living with, Charles’ presentation was very enjoyable and it was easy to relate to the problems he was describing.  In particular the challenges around gathering information on chromosomes by inference from a huge amount of data by looking at different ratios and patterns was very recognizable. This, even though chromosomes never come up in discussions with my customers. The last slide was a picture of a square water melon, a picture that hit home the impact that OR can have on our everyday life.

This picture leads to much more food for thought. To give a couple of examples: How much more efficient could the supply chain for bananas be if only they were square? And would you market square bananas as greener than regular bananas because the supply chain is more energy efficient? How would you price square bananas differently from regular bananas? Clearly there is plenty more work for OR specialists left to do.

Interactive Sessions Monday & Tuesday from 12:30-1:30

by Erica Klampfl

Just a reminder that the Interactive Sessions starts today from 12:30-1:30 in the Convention Center Exhibit Hall H (where the general reception was located last night).  Those who will be presenting today are listed with the titles of their talks on page 37 in the program (if you didn’t go green) and you can find abstracts starting on page 182 in the online document:  We will be awarding the first-place presenter with $750 at the end of each session.  

Thanks to today’s judges: Miguel Anjos, University of Waterloo; Andy Boyd, PROS Revenue Mgt.; Manoj Chari, SAS Institute; Xiuli He, UNC-Charlotte; Stefan Karisch, Jeppesen; Jack Levis, UPS; Pelin Pekgun, JDA Software; Karthik Ramachandran, Southern Methodist Univ.; Cem Saydam, UNC-Charlotte; Jan Stallaert, Univ. of Connecticut.

Also, thanks to Tuesday’s judges:  Ronald Askin, Arizon State Univ.; Rachel Chen, UC-Davis; Genetha Gray, Sandia National Labs; Zhiling Guo, Univ. of Maryland; Bjarni Kristjansson, Maximal Software; Irv Lustig, IBM; Jonathan Owen, General Motors; Sanjay Saigal, Intechne; Yang Sun, California State Univ.-Sacramento; Julie Ward, Hewlett-Packard.

Hope to see you at the Interactive Sessions!

COIN-OR Events on Monday (and Tuesday, and Wednesday)

by Matt Saltzman

Many of you know about the COIN-OR project, which publishes and supports open-source software for operations research.  The project is managed by the COIN-OR Foundation, a non-profit corporation, and the Web infrastructure is hosted by INFORMS, at

If you wonder what open-source is about, or you’re interested in the software packages, stop by our booth in the exhibit hall and share some chocolate coins and conversation.  Everyone interested in the project’s business is welcome to attend the membership meeting today (Monday) 12:30-1:30 in Convention Center 25A.

If you’re interested in celebrations, the awarding of the COIN-OR Cup will take place tonight at the Rock Bottom Brewery (401 G Street) 9:00-11:00.  The Cup is awarded to a significant application of or contribution to the COIN-OR toolkit.  The winner will be announced at the aforementioned business meeting.  The celebration is sponsored by IBM.

If you are interested in COIN-OR technology, there are sessions in MB51, MC13 and MD13, and an open forum in TB13.

If you want to know more about open source in general, Robin Lougee-Heimer will give a tutorial in WB59.

Ruminating on my first 2+ Days in San Diego

by Jim Cochran

I have already had the opportunity to participate in many great activities. The 2009 Combined Colloquia Committee (Jill Hardin, Matt Drake, Larry Snyder, and Brady Hunsaker ( did a fine job; during the breaks in these colloquia it was difficult not to overhear participants discussing how valuable this experience was for them. I encourage you to take advantage of this program next year in Austin at the 2010 INFORMS Conference – attend the Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium (the presentations in this colloquium will make you take a critical look at how you teach) and send a doctoral student who is near completion of her/his degree to the Future Academician Colloquium or Future Practitioner Colloquium (both terrific ways for these students to hear INFORMS members discuss a variety of career-related issues).

I also greatly enjoyed the two sessions in which the finalists of the “Doing Good with Good OR Student Competition” presented their work. These students (and their advisors) have done some amazing research, from building a model to aid decision-makers in designing an optimal water distribution network in the Middle East to finding the optimal timing of statin initiation for patients with Type II diabetes. Serving as a judge for this competition was extremely educational and rewarding. Congratulations and thanks to all of the finalists!

Dick Larson gave an engrossing keynote presentation yesterday afternoon very In “Worldwide Reach into High School Math and Science Classes,” Dick discussed the BLOSSOMS (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies, program for developing interactive learning videos for high school math and science classes in many countries. He included demonstrations of BLOSSOMS videos, including OR materials, and called on audience members to add to this valuable shared Open Source video repository.

Today I look forward to attending the plenary “Better Smarter Electricity Markets: Efficiently Capturing Wind, Rain and Fire,’ by Richard P. O’Neill (Chief Economic Advisor, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). I also look forward to attending a series of sessions in the SpORts section’s invited cluster. Cluster Chair Eric Bickel and his session chairs have pulled together four very interesting sessions (including two that prominently feature golf). I hope to see you in these sessions.

INFORMS Communities Meet

by Maarten Oosten

The Community Business Meetings are great opportunities to meet colleagues that are interested in the same field of OR and to stay abreast of various relevant initiatives and activities. I for one try to stay in touch with the Rail Application Section and the Section on Revenue Management & Pricing.

Here I will focus on the Section on Revenue Management & Pricing. Over the past decade there has been a growing interest in this area. At this conference the section sponsored 33 sessions and as such it is a significant contributor. In fact, this section has the potential to become a full-fledged society.

The meeting starts with an opportunity to catch up with the other members in an informal way. As is typical for this organization there is a balanced mix of academics and practitioners. After the introductions the meeting takes off in a professional and concise manner.  So what do you learn in a meeting like this?

Besides meeting the new officers and an overview of last year’s achievements, you would know that about the new repository for training materials on RM. Also, the next Section conference (number 10 already) will take place at Cornell, June 16-18. At this conference there will be a new RM&P Practice Prize, with as key requirement that the solution is actually used and impactful.  Furthermore, you would have had an opportunity to congratulate the winners of the existing prices that the section awards:

  • The prize for historical contributions went this year to Gabriel Bitran of MIT.
  • The prize for best paper went this year to Xin Chen of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and David Simchi-Levi of MIT.

It is not too late to congratulate them in case you happen to see them the coming days.

You can find more information at the section’s website: There are of course many more of these communities. If you are not yet a member of such an INFORMS community you may want to stop by the Community Counter at the INFORMS Registration Desk and join the one that is right for you. And next time, attend the business meeting!

The Minority Issues Forum Reception: a hidden gem

by Erica Klampfl

For those of you who didn’t read my blog earlier, I did suggest that you go to the Minority Issues Forum Reception tonight.  It is truly a hidden gem at the INFORMS conference not only for the good food (shrimp & scallop, lamb, and eggplant kabobs) and free alcoholic beverages, but also for the networking opportunities.  You do NOT have to be a minority to go to this reception.   The main goal of this reception is to provide minority students the opportunity to showcase their work through poster presentations.  Hiram Moya from Texas A&M had an interesting poster on how to improve transportation flow across the Canadian and Mexican borders.  This is an especially critical problem after 911 when security and queues have increased at the border, driving cost and wait time up. 

For those of you that missed it, this was a great opportunity to see what talented minority students are working on. A friend of mine requested a resume from one of the students who is doing research very related to some work at the national labs and is hoping to line him up with an interview.

Keep this Reception in mind for next year!

E-learning in high schools: the BLOSSOMS project

by Aurelie Thiele

I attended the semi-plenary by MIT’s Richard Larson this (Sunday) afternoon, on an initiative, called BLOSSOMS, that he recently started with other educators using funding provided by the Hewlett-Packard Foundation and the Sloan Foundation. BLOSSOMS stands for Blended Learning Science or Math Studies and is spearheaded by MIT LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium).

The idea behind BLOSSOMS is to develop videos about science topics that high school teachers show in the classroom. A key aspect of the videos is that they are cut into well-defined parts (the screen fades to black between segments) to allow teachers to discuss the ideas presented in the footage with their students, before starting the video again. Larson explained that he (and the other people involved with the project) views the videos as “teaching duets” between the educator who is shown on the screen – professor or graduate student – and the teacher & his or her students in the classroom.

I particularly liked Larson’s point that some high school teachers dislike any environment that takes students out of the classroom and in front of a computer for one-on-one interactions. They do not want to be bypassed, for understandable reasons. So while BLOSSOMS’s videos can be downloaded from the Internet, they are also available on CD-ROMs and videotapes. The “teaching duets” are designed to create a high level of engagement in the classroom and keep the teacher in control.

Another interesting aspect of the project is that educators in partner countries – especially Jordan and Pakistan – have also contributed their share of videos. This is important because members of developing countries wanted to take an integral part in creating this online repository, and not just receive videos from the US telling them how to teach this or that subject, no matter how good the videos are. Jordan and Pakistan have some excellent professors too, who have thus been busy creating videos for high school audiences.

Larson treated us to a video showing his former graduate student, Karima Nigmatulina PhD’09, introducing graph theory to an intended high school audience through the famous problems of the seven bridges of Königsberg and the Chinese Postman Problem. It is important to note that the videos are not only aimed at schoolchildren in far-away countries, but also at high school students in the US. Because the Ministries of Education, both in Jordan and Pakistan, have been highly supportive of the project, it has been easier to spread the word about BLOSSOMS there than in the US, where education is not as centralized and curricula are determined at a state level. To quote this afternoon’s slides, the overarching goal is to “give every young person a quality education regardless of his or her place of birth.”

The videos also include teachers’ guides, which explain the activities recommended in the videos in more details; in addition, transcripts are available on the BLOSSOMS website. (I believe that some of the videos, possibly all, are also translated in Arabic.) As a next step, Larson plans to move the site to a Web 2.0 version where viewers would be able to comment on the videos and rate them, to better showcase the videos that are judged outstanding by users. But what he would particularly like is for other INFORMS members to create operations research modules for BLOSSOMS – operations research is a great way to get teenagers interested about math using practical problems. Of course, INFORMS members would not be left to their own devices. For more information in contributing a video, please click here and here.

Inspiring Sessions

by Helio Yang

Today’s plenary speaker Professor Hau Lee challenged what we do as professors and researchers to a higher level in addressing critical issues faced by the world. His talk highlighted the theme of the conference-the globe. As an elite group of scholars, OR/MS community can make significant contributions to trade friction and humanitarian disasters. I also learned from Professor van Wassenhove’s tutorial session on their efforts in working with Red Cross and private companies to improve supply chain performances in bringing relieves to disaster victims. Some common practices in SCM resulted in huge improvement! I searched conference program database and there are 32 presentations related to this area. Thanks all for bringing OR/MS to the solutions of the needy.

Introducing operations research to the layperson

by Hari Balasubramanian

All operations researchers will agree that it is difficult to explain to the lay person what they do.  The term operations research itself is baffling. You could call it briefly as  “the science of planning well”, ” the science of efficiency” or the well known “the science of better”. But these terms, while concise, don’t reveal the full picture.  A few days ago, I decided to give readers on my blog (these readers are unfamiliar with operations research) a sense of what the field is about.  I felt an analogy between engineering that the lay person is familiar with and systems that operations researchers engineer might strike a chord.

Here is an excerpt from my attempt– let me know what you think:

We are surrounded by technological marvels. It seems magical – to me at least – that a plane carrying hundreds of passengers and tons of luggage, actually manages to take flight; that there are such things as wireless phones; that there is a large, scattered yet miraculously unified network called the “Internet”. Amazing right? But behind each there is solid engineering that makes clever use of the underlying science, be it fluid dynamics, signal processing, or fiber optics. The engineering is not always obvious, but the lay person is aware that there are specialists — aerospace engineers, computer scientists, electrical engineers to name just few — who make these things work.

In the same way, do you wonder how your FedEx package from the Philippines arrived without delay to the small Midwestern town you live in; how the Netflix movie you ordered gets to your address exactly on the day their email claimed; how large airports, such as Heathrow and JFK, manage their flights, schedules, and air traffic? We take these systems for granted, but they work because they are engineered. This type of systems level engineering – the science of allocation, planning and scheduling in the face of uncertainties and the fluctuating dynamics of supply and demand – is called operations research. In business schools it is called management science. Because it is a less tangible kind of engineering, the lay person is generally unaware of it.

You might argue that many systems are rarely well managed. What’s in a science that produces long lines and sapping delays? True, systems may be dysfunctional because of bad planning but this is not unique to operations research. A mechanical problem – arguably caused by the traditional “nuts and bolts” engineer – can stop a flight from taking off as well. In fact, a well managed airline will have a contingency schedule that minimizes the traveler’s disruption in case of a cancellation. Think of all the flight groundings and cancellations that happened on and post 9/11. Have we given close thought to what it took to bring everything back to normal?

Operations research is a mongrel field. Like other engineers, the operations researcher uses mathematical methods, but she also may dabble in statistics, economics, and computer science. She will also need knowledge of the domain she is working in; and importantly, if her domain involves people, she will need to know that people do not behave as rigidly or rationally as her math models assume. This mongrel quality of the field makes it breathtakingly versatile – applications have advanced well beyond the “operations” realm and have entered even areas such as designing beam angles for radiation therapy. The flip side of the coin, however, is that some think of it as an “anything-goes” field with no real identity.

The full post is here.

Can modeling be taught? Can OR become a household word?

by Matt Saltzman

This morning I was supposed to attend a portion of the INFORMS board meeting.  While waiting for my segment to start, I happened on Jim Orlin’s [panel|tutorial||workshop] on teaching modeling of unstructured content.  Jim, Stephen Powell, and Robert Shumsky talked a bit about some research that they’ve done with students on how they approach the problem of building a model from an unstructured problem.  They involved the audience in an exercise to do the same right there in the session, and we talked about some of the frameworks that people seemed to use.  I had to leave in the middle, but see Mike Trick’s more detailed post on this subject.

I was at the board meeting to participate in a presentation of the new INFORMS Online (see what we are up to at the IOL launch party tonight at 6pm in Hilton 206).  But I saw an interesting presentation on publicizing the work that we do to the press and the public.  There are some interesting initiatives being proposed to help support INFORMS members who want to tell their stories in the media.  There were also suggestions about how the press does its job and how OR people can help them help us publicize our work.  Barry List, INFORMS’s Director of Public Relations, has a workshop on on this topic on Tuesday TA69 in the Hilton, Indigo A.

Modeling as a Teachable Skill

by Michael Trick

I just attended a nice “panel discussion” on Teaching the Art of Modeling, put together by Jim Orlin (MIT), Stephen Powell and Rob Shumsky (both from Dartmouth).  This was not your normal INFORMS session!  The panelists decided to do this as an “active learning” session, so audience members had to work throughout the session.  The first exercise was to think about how to model a hypothetical, but real-sounding problem:  “Suppose the Red Cross was considering paying people for their blood donations.  How would you provide them with a model that could help them understand the tradeoffs.”  That (paraphrased) was all the information we got.  We were then given 10 minutes or so to work individually on addressing this.  The idea would be that this would be the first 10 minutes of whatever multiple-hour process we would go through to get a “real” model.  Where would you start?

For many, the starting point was brainstorming:  putting down a whole set of issues to be considered and items that might go into the model.  For others, it was graphing some of the anticipated relationships between key issues.  Others still used techniques such as influence diagrams to help organize their thoughts.  Being a hard-core mathematical programming, I thought in terms of objectives, variables and constraints, and was pretty far along with my nonlinear, nonconvex mixed integer program when time was called.

Stephen Powell then asked some audience members what they did, eliciting the strategies given above.  He has experimented with this problem with students and learned a number of things about what they do (presumably either inexperienced or novice at modeling).  First, even for students who have taken modeling courses, it is surprising how little of what we teach gets used in this context.  Students, when faced with a fuzzy modeling problem, often do some combination of the following:

  1. They grab on to data like a lifeboat, prompty multiplying or dividing every number in sight in the hope of getting the “right answer” the professor is looking for.  The Red Cross example has no numbers, so they might make some up just to get going.
  2. They dispense with modeling and go straight to the answer: “This is a bad idea because …”
  3. They adopt inefficient methods and are unable to step back and recognize how inefficient they have become.
  4. They overuse brainstorming relative to any aspect of structured problem solving that they might have been taught.

If there is a column of numbers, you can bet that many students will immediately run a regression!

After discussing these results (there are a couple papers in the Journal of the Operational Research Society on “How Novices Formulate Models” that covers this), Jim and Rob were given a problem new to them (on a model for deciding on the best morgtage to get) and they showed how an influence diagram approach would be used to begin understanding and modeling.

Powell and his co-author Robert Batt have a book entitled Modeling for Insight (Wiley:  one of the exhibitors here) .

It was great to see a session that required the audience to do some work!  While I was not completely convinced by the modeling approach presented (give me my objective, variables, and constraints!), I was convinced about active learning as a way to make 90 minutes go by much faster and in a much more effective way.

Welcome Plenary by Hau Lee

by Erica Klampfl

It is very fitting that Hau Lee opened the conference with a plenary talk on “Socially and Environmentally Responsible Supply Chains” with the INFORMS conference ”going green” this year.  Professor Lee focused on three main topics involving logistics applications:  trade, disaster relief, and healthcare.  On trade, he proposed how to improve logistics in emerging markets.  For disaster relief, he discussed prepositioning of warehouses and the problems of demand estimation.  Regarding healthcare, he discussed how logistics is key in delivering medicine and giving citizen’s proper care in places such as Africa.  If you missed his talk, see page 24 in the program for more details.

While I did get the printed out program (yes, I still like to flip through actual pages), I appreciate our OR community’s focus on applying our expertise to solve social and environmental problems and specifically Professor Lee and his colleagues’ contributions.

Welcome to the 2009 Annual Meeting!

by Erica Klampfl

Welcome to everyone who has already arrived in San Diego for the INFORMS conference.  I arrived last night to weather a bit warmer than what we are currently experiencing in Michigan.  I’m looking forward to several days of sunny weather and stimulating talks.

For those of you experiencing this conference for the first time, it can be a bit daunting with around 75 parallel talks.  A few tips to make your experience more fulfilling and to find the right talks:  (1) look up names of people who are working in areas you’re interested in and see when they’re talking, (2) select sessions based on topics of interest, (3) it is sometimes difficult to session hop when talks are in different locations, so realize that if sessions you’re interested in attending aren’t close in proximity, you will only be able to attend one, (4) if you are interested in practitioner’s talks, check out  I particularly like both the Wagner Prize talks and the Edelman Reprisal talks (5) as co-chair of the Interactive Session, I should put in a special plug for everyone to visit this session held in the Exhibit Hall between 12:30 and 1:30 on both Monday and Tuesday.  This is a good opportunity to interact directly with many different speakers on a variety of topics.  (6) attend the different receptions and try and network as much as possible.  Tonight is the welcome reception, but also check out the Minority Issues Forum Reception that starts at 8pm and don’t forget the awards ceremony and dessert reception starting at 8:30. (7) anyone with other helpful tips, please post in a comment.

I have a bright yellow tag on my badge, so if you don’t want to write an online comment, please feel free to stop me and introduce yourself.

Looking forward to meeting you (online or in person)!


OR Goes Green?

by Guillaume Roels

Is this conference greener than in the previous years or is it just me who is paying more attention to sustainability-related issues? Very timely, given that the Copenhagen summit is just a few months ahead…

There seems to be many more sessions on sustainability. Just for tomorrow, I was able to spot 10+ sessions which explicitly focus on green supply chains, green energy, or carbon emissions (without counting the related topics of urban planning, transportation, etc.). Among the keynote sessions, Hau Lee will tak tomorrow about socially and environmentally-responsible supply chains and John Sterman will explain on Tuesday why the response to climate change has been so slow.

I am also pleased to see that the conference organizers encouraged us not to request a print copy of the program. (Is there also a way to avoid getting the bag?) Although I was enthusiastic about the latter initiative, I have to admit that I have been disappointed by the web technology used by the online program. In particular, there is no way to save my itinerary to update it later; once a session has been included in my itinerary, I cannot click on the session title to get more details about the speakers; and the rooms are not listed in the electronic program. I am sure that there must be web technology out there that would provide a more convenient access to the conference program. Although I congratulate the organizers for this initiative, I hope that the technology will be more mature next year to convert me to the online program.

Please send your suggestions to make this conference even greener!

Want to make this conference even more memorable? Try these sites…

by Helio Yang

Hello, this is Y. Helio Yang from San Diego State University. Welcome to the America’s finest city!! There is so much to do while you are here. If you are a nature lover like me, you may want visit the following sites. It will make this conference even more memorable to you and your family.
1. Cabrillo National Monument (1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA 92106-3601; (619) 557-5450) is at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. In 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed here as the first European to set foot on what is now the West Coast of the United States. In addition to telling, This park is the home to a wealth of cultural and natural resources, and tells the story of 16th century exploration. The park is open 365 days a year from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It is a short drive from the Convention Center. On your way there you will drive on a 28. 59-mile scenic drive, which offers spectacular panoramic views of the ocean and city. If the weather is clear, you may see our sister city-Tijuana, Mexico from the park. The park entrance fee is $5/car.
Driving Direction from downtown San Diego (You may also take bus route 28 at the Visitor Center complex.)
•Take Harbor Drive past the airport
•Turn left onto Rosecrans Street
•Turn right onto Canon Street
•Turn left onto Catalina Blvd. (also known as Cabrillo Memorial Drive)
•Follow Catalina Blvd. all the way to the end

2. La Jolla Cove (1100 Coast Boulevard): one of the most photographed beaches in Southern California. It is within a short walk of the commercial area of the community of La Jolla. Water visibility at the Cove can sometimes exceed 30 feet, making it a popular location for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Direction: From downtown San Diego, take Interstate 5 north to La Jolla Parkway. Continue on as it becomes Torrey Pines Road. Follow Torrey Pines Road to the signalized intersection at Prospect Street and turn right. Watch for the signs and stay right on Coast Boulevard.

Enjoy your stay at San Diego!!
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