Join us at the INFORMS Annual Meeting San Francisco 2014

Conference Blog
by John Angelis

This year, INFORMS Annual Meeting is overlapping with the presentation of the Nobel Prizes. It’s exciting to see each award come out, and as many of you know, the Nobel Prize in Economics has occasionally had an Operations connection. But it also has me wondering; in what ways is Operations connecting with the dominant trends in the greater world of science?

For example, at INFORMS, one of the talks I attended was on genetics. It was given by Nicos Nicolaou. He and several colleagues had written a 2008 Management Science paper on “Is the Tendency to Engage in Entrepreneurship Genetic?.” This paper had won an award from the Technology Management Section, and Nicos was explaining further work done in the field. The work also received favorable attention in articles appearing in Forbes, Money @CNN, and other popular online business portals.

I was glad to see some work in genetics represented at INFORMS, given the way that genetics seems to be advancing so quickly as a science. I’m now also curious as to whether advancements in neuroscience hold any promise for Operations research. In your opinion, what scientific advancements or fields do you think could benefit Operations work? I like using Wednesday blogs at INFORMS for more whimsical, futuristic ideas. I’d be curious as to what some members think on this topic.

by Paul Rubin

Jim Cochran mentioned the inaugural speed networking event. I attended, and I sure hope it is repeated next year. (In a bit of irony, I connected with a potential collaborator minutes before setting out to the event, but by next meeting I will likely be “in the market” again.) Speed networking is more challenging to manage, due to multiplicity and complexity of criteria for matching, than is speed dating (a bipartite matching problem). I anticipate there will be some process tuning before the next run, but I am confident that the feedback was positive, and I really believe it can provide a valuable service. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the session – time well spent.

by John Angelis

As part of the pre-INFORMS festivities, I took in a talk by Barry Kudrowitz, a professor of product design at the University of Minnesota, on the role of play in innovation. Part of the presentation involved an audience challenge where we were asked to figure out as many uses as possible for a paper clip. Barry went on to survey us on whether we had seen the exercise as work or play. As you might have guessed, those who saw the exercise as work had fewer ideas than those who saw it as play. However, would the detailed work needed for operations benefit from a playful approach?

There seems to be a disconnect between words like ‚Äúplay‚ÄĚ ‚Äúcreativity‚ÄĚ ‚Äúimprovisation‚ÄĚ, and the STEM fields. We certainly know colleagues (or ourselves) who are filled with joy when they discuss their research, or show great passion in the classroom. But, there‚Äôs also a sense that improvisation is the enemy of rigor and the scientific method. Perhaps, as well, words like ‚Äúplay‚ÄĚ sound too immature and informal.

So then, what are your thoughts on playfulness and creativity in Operations? Have you found that a more light approach to your research and teaching improve your work, or lower your efficiency?

by Jim Cochran

Terrific day – the workshop for high school teachers was filled with enthusiastic participants, the INFORM-ED session at 1:30 was great, and the new speed networking session put together by the WORMS, MIF, and JFIG was very well attended and received. I look forward to the INFORM-ED panel on teaching data mining tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. (and to the meeting next year in San Francisco).

by Ken Chelst

The senior math specialist for the state of MN attended our workshop today.
As a result of teacher reaction and her own observations, she feels there will be enough interest to run a 4 day training workshop in summer 2014.
Many of today’s teachers already plan on replacing the sterile LP examples in all of their texts with our more complete examples and utilize Solver to handle more realistic sized examples. A number will begin exploring what it will take to launch an entire semester course in their school within the next 2 years.

by S. Phil Kim

I talked with one of Purdue IE faculty, Ji Soo Yi, about his work and I attended his talk today.

Even though I missed the first half of his talk, I found what he and his team did could be a great help to professors who teach mathematical programming, especially linear programming, in undergraduate.

This is still a beta version but, it has some cool features for instructor. You can create your own problems, and send them out to your students as homework. (save your time or make your homework look more fancy)

The link is the following

or ¬†google ‘Purdue POET’

You will be asked to create an account and need to sign in as an instructor, in order to create new problems and/or  homework.

I am going to release the solution of homework I gave to my students thru this tool, so that students can find the solution by trying to type in the right answer.


Take a look and you will see how you can utilize this in your class.

by Ken Chelst

Jim is a long time friend from the INFORMS ROUNDTABLE. He brought a business perspective about the value of OR in his previous position and Land O’ Lakes. He could talk about the challenges of thousands of suppliers, products and customers and the huge impact OR had when integrating a new acquisition. He answered questions about the skills that industry is seeking in new hires.
We wish Jim all of the best in his recent career change to FICO.

by Ken Chelst

Two of my doctoral students, Mani and Mahdohkt, met with Dick to discuss developing a blended activity involving MCDA. The video would start with the tossing oranges and apples while wondering who says you cannot compare Apples and Oranges. The core example in the activity will be around selecting an individual to join some team effort. The specifics will be worked out within the next few months.
Mani and Mahdohkt committed to delivering a finished product next May.
This is the start of cross fertilization between our efforts and MIT’s Blended Learning program BLOSSOMS.

by Ken Chelst

Jim ran the second part of the HS OR program. He began by sharing his world wide experiences as part of “Statisticians without borders” He is currently working on reducing infant mortality in displaced person camps in the Sudan.
He introduced them to linear programming with a hands on lego example. This activity is critical to helping students concretize the concepts of decision variables, objectives, and constraints (the number of lego pieces). He also demonstrated shadow by offering to sell one more Lego piece for 2 dollars. He then introduced a more complex example involving skateboard production and engaged them in discovering the corner point principle. He also showed why an integer constraint makes the problem more difficult.

by Ken Chelst

Carl and I spoke extensively about our different but complementary missions in bringing elements of our profession to the high school community. Their focus is on working with students directly and around the broad area of decision making skills. Their material is supplementary to a standard curriculum. We focus on teachers and bring OR into a standard HS math curriculum. We compared and contrasted our relative successes. We look forward to future collaborations between our respective groups.

by Ken Chelst

We offered our one-day program about OR to local area high school math teachers.
We had 40 in the room plus 10 more who were on a waiting list.
Dave Goldsman began with a queuing discussion that engaged the teachers immediately. He recalled being paid to wait on a line for 26 hours to purchase Elvis tickets to be turned over to the local radio station. After much discussion of related teacher experience, Dave moved onto a formal activity involving standard M/M/1 .
He then managed a controlled chaos as we did an experiment with teachers randomly expected to sharpen a pencil. One pencil sharpener demonstrated significant variability. The average was in the 15 second range. He took 45 seconds as he cranked and cranked the sharpener. This chaos is often the highlight of the day.
A\Of course, sprinkled his unique sty;e of humor throughout his presentation.

by Guillaume Roels

One of the most inspiring talks of this conference was the presentation by Dimitris Bertimas on Healthcare Analytics. Given how full the ballroom was, I wasn’t clearly the only one interested in the topic. Dimitris presented two projects he did with MIT students to foster personalized medicine. The first project led to the development of an online tool that helps people with diabetes choose what and when to eat and how much and when to exercise as a function of their metabolism and their food preferences. The second project has led to the development of a database of different cancer treatments that have appeared in the medical literature since the 70s, so as to predict the effectiveness of untried treatments and to tailor treatments to patients’ characteristics.

What was very interesting from an intellectual standpoint was the breadth of OR techniques associated with the development of these tools, including preference elicitations, advance statistics, and robust optimization to name a few.

More importantly, the reported results were extremely encouraging. What Dimitris Bertsimas demonstrated is that, with a concerted effort, our profession can make a dramatic impact on improving health outcomes while curbing healthcare costs.

by Jen Leong

I was so excited to hear the value of learning Python across so many talks!¬† I am essentially a Python¬†noob and I am just starting to learn the power of Python in between¬†client work¬†and the rest of my¬†life.¬† It has been a slow and painful¬†process, but I was really¬†inspired by Chase Murray and Justin Yate’s Presentation on “Getting Actionable Intelligence from Social Media” to continue pressing on with my Python lessons.

Twitter API + Python Scripts/Libraries = Data Fun!

Luckily I have signed up for a class with my company¬†and therefore have dedicated time.¬† However, for those of us that don’t have the luxury of being in a classroom,¬†the Learn Python The Hard Way¬†website is a good one to start with. ¬†This tutorial has a tough-love approach to teaching you the language.¬† I am a big fan because the author really hammers home the need to practice (do it at least 20 times!)¬†and provides great exercises to build on my skills.¬† I have not gotten far, and I almost gave up…but through several talks and discussions here at the Annual Conference, I am inspired to keep working on it.

Practice, Practice, Practice!  It is so much easier to stick to learning a new language outside of your daily work when you are inspired.

Who doesn’t love new¬†Skills?!

by Anna Nagurney

Those of us who are lucky enough to be at INFORMS in Minneapolis can’t help but be inspired — from the plenary talks at which we have tasted and savored the latest research from the likes of OR/MS superstars Professor Larry Wein of Stanford, Professor Dimitris Bertsimas of MIT, and our INFORMS President, Dr. Anne Robinson, of Verizon, to mention just a few, to the invited sessions as well as contributed ones. The professionalism of the talks has been great.

Our minds are percolating with new research ideas and how we can put OR/MS and analytics into practice.

As Professor Bertsimas said in his plenary talk today, which was on healthcare analytics and inspired by personal losses, never has our profession had more opportunities with the wealth of data that is now available, the models that we have and are developing, as well as algorithms, and applications. A theme has definitely been that of doing good (or great things) with our great tools. From healthcare to the environment and transportation to even social media analytics now is probably the most exciting time for our profession in our lifetimes.

In addition to the intellectual stimulation that we have had here at our great annual INFORMS Conference, there have been special events that I have tried to capture the spirit of in blog postings over the past few days.

Today, for example, we had the WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) luncheon, which is no longer a well-kept secret. Not only was the meal — chicken, salad, tortellini, and veggies with a variety of cupcakes for dessert (including red velvet ones) delicious and the conversations so pleasant, with quite a few males in attendance, but we had the honor of recognizing Professor Kathryn Stecke of UTDallas with the 2013 WORMS Award. Professor Laura McLay of U. of Wisconsin Madison, our WORMS President, was the speaker and a great master of ceremonies.

Such venues serve as terrific outlets for support of one another and Dr. Eric Wolman was also recognized.

Judging from the smiles on the faces of the conferees (thanks to all the universities hosting receptions last night as well), and the warmth of the sun today, this conference has been a huge success and it is not even over yet.

Many thanks to the organizers and to the INFORMS staff for the great conference organization and logistics!

by Jim Cochran

Today I get to work on one of my favorite activities related to the annual INFORMS conference. Dvae Goldsman and I will assist Ken Chelst in giving a day long workshop for high school mathematics teachers on integrating operations research/analytics into their curricula. Ken does a terrific job organizing this event every year, and the participants are extremely enthusiastic. The teachers frequently comment on how much they look forward to returning to their schools so they can integrate topics that are actually relevant and will really engage their students. The program this year is maxed out – demand by potential participants far exceeds our capacity!

We’ll discuss decision analysis, queuing, simulation, optimization, etc. and show how these concepts can be made accessible to high school students. Working with these teachers is great fun – they are very committed to improving the quality and relevance of the education they provide their students, their enthusiasm is infectious, and their dedication is inspiring.

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