San Francisco 2014
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Nov 10 14

WORMS Business Meeting: New Childcare Travel Fund and Mentorship Network

by Susan Martonosi

Calling all supporters of women in OR/MS (WORMS)!

The WORMS forum launched two new initiatives for its members this year: a childcare travel fund and a mentorship network.  At our business meeting yesterday, it became clear that not all members are aware of these, so here is some information about the two programs:

WORMS Childcare Travel Fund

This fund will partially reimburse recipients for up to $200 in costs associated with care for children age 12 years or younger traveling with a parent who is participating in the INFORMS Annual Meeting.  Full application procedures and award guidelines are given at  We hope this will make it easier for new parents to attend the conference and foster their professional development.

WORMS Mentorship Network

If you are willing to be a mentor to another INFORMS member, or you are seeking a mentor, then please sign up for the WORMS Mentorship Network through the WORMS Community on INFORMS Connect.

These are two great reasons to join WORMS if you haven’t already!

Attendees to the business meeting spoke passionately about the need for more guidance  in areas such as negotiating salaries, being recognized professionally in the form of INFORMS Board and INFORMS Fellow positions and navigating other barriers to women in the workplace.  Keep your eyes open for activities next year addressing some of these concerns.  I hope to see you at our great cluster of sessions Tuesday!

Nov 10 14

Calling all arithmophiles

by Alan Briggs

Math has always been its own language; you either learn it and speak it, or you don’t. Perhaps like any language, speaking math means you dream in math, you think in math, you tell jokes in math.

Throughout much of my early schooling, the number of people that liked math—that really got math—was relatively small. As time went on, the gap widened. By the time I got to graduate school, I feel like the only people who really communicated the same way were fellow students. Away from the department, nobody really understood what I did. My friends, my family, random strangers in public all politely feigned interest but secretly tuned me out as soon as I started talking about my work.

When thousands of people who all speak the same uncommon language descend upon a single destination, there’s a palpable comradery that just can’t be found anywhere else. I’m sure one of you dreamed about a near-optimal solution for seeing everything at the conference you intended to. Or maybe, like my friends and me, you laughed about the naïve inventory policy that’s obviously in place at a local restaurant. And, no doubt, several of you believe you’ve cleverly improved in your head the elevator queuing algorithm that has left lines of people impatiently waiting to get to their next activity. It’s fun to be with like-minded people and it’s even more fun to be with so many.

That’s what I’m enjoying about this conference.

Nov 10 14

Making the Connection Between Analytics and OR

by Polly Mitchell-Guthrie

This was the title of the panel discussion I attended this afternoon, and it was a great discussion. Any discussion where the facilitator (Jack Levis from UPS) prompts the panel by giving each a cupcake (in case it got too contentious) and bottle of tequila (in case it was too tame) is going to be good.

The panelists included Glenn Wegryn (retired from Procter and Gamble), Russ Labe (Bank of America), and Anne Robinson (Verizon Wireless and former INFORMS President), who would have been plenty interesting on their own, even without cupcake and tequila prompts. Jack asked great questions, kicking off by asking if there is a difference between analytics and OR. Russ said that the business just wants their problem solved – they don’t care whether you all it analytics or OR. Glenn sees analytics as a perspective – that it’s a way to present information, including visualization; that it provides a better way to have civil conversations with IT; and a better framework to describe this work (descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive). Anne thinks OR is a tool in the toolbox but that analytics is an entire process.

Jack highlighted a Gartner survey that found that 70% of businesses say they do descriptive analytics; 16% do predictive analytics, but only 3% are in the historic INFORMS realm of prescriptive analytics. Anne said this is a great opportunity for INFORMS. Jack asked for opinions into the data scientist phenomenon and where it fits in. To Russ it seems like analytics done from an IT perspective but is unsure it will last. Glenn is unsure of it, too, but regardless of what it is called he finds he needs roles on successful teams: a business person who can identify opportunities by knowing enough analytics to be dangerous, quants, and data engineers (who can do things like wrangle data out of ERP systems). Anne’s shop is small enough that she needs people with all three skills, although this combination is admittedly hard to find.

Someone commented that analytics has been around for more than 50 years, so the only new thing is what we call it. To which Glenn added that when he was first hired at P&G 30 years ago his title was “Analytical Analyst,” which was really just a cover for doing OR.

So how do you know if someone can do analytics and OR, or if they can just make pivot tables? Analytics certification is one way, and this is an initiative INFORMS has gotten behind. In fact, that’s a segue to a session I’m chairing tomorrow on the Whats Whys and Hows of Analytics Certification. It’s at 11:00 tomorrow morning, so this body on east coast time better get to bed!

Nov 10 14

Wait Time at the Registration Line

by Shiva

Many would have noticed the long lines of OR folks lining up to pick up their name tags this Sunday morning. There were multiple queues partitioned based on first letter of the registered name. The last two lines were for H-P, and Q-Z. The latter got sub-divided near the counter into Q-S and T-Z, and I suppose the other lines were similarly bifurcated near the counter. The lengths of the lines did not appear to be dramatically different from each other, give or take. If we have N queues, we would create letter bins so that roughly 100/N % of names show up in each line. has this piece of statistic that gives us the % distribution of first letter of last names in the US based on 2000 census data:

A-G ~ 33%

H-P ~ 38%

Q-Z ~ 29%

Of course, the INFORMS annual conference is likely to be attended by folks from all over the world, so this data may be a bit skewed toward the US. Furthermore, the distribution can change over time. The Q-Z line was actually a bit longer than the H-P line at one point in time.  However, the INFORMS alphabet partition seems to be pretty reasonable: roughly 1/3 of the names are likely to go into each of the 3 main lines.

Next, we see from the same site that Q-S ~15%, T-Z ~ 14%, so the subdivision seems to be pretty reasonable too.


Nov 10 14

Decision making in the future

by Patrick Leach

At the 50th Anniversary of DA celebration yesterday, a number of people expressed optimism (some admitted it was more like Pollyannaism) that in the years to come, everyone will use the principles of DA to make rational decisions.

I’m an optimist by nature, but I’m not so sanguine on this subject.  I think the biggest problems facing us (society, that is) are Tragedy-of-the-Commons issues that require global cooperation to solve.  This will require changes in human behavior that are going to be extremely difficult to accomplish, due to three factors:

1) Tribalism – i.e., the instinct for people to trust those who share their cultural background, and distrust those who don’t.

2) Cognitive dissonance, or more accurately, the most common human reaction to cognitive dissonance, which is to deny any evidence that contradicts what we want to believe.

3) The fracturing of media outlets into political factions, making it possible for everyone to hear only information which supports their political beliefs (even if that information is dwarfed by information that counters their beliefs).  Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.  But these days, people do feel entitled to their own facts.

The optimist in me wants to focus DA on dealing with these problems, and who knows? – Maybe we can actually move the needle in the right direction.  But I’m concerned about whether we can move it far enough and fast enough to prod society into using a rational, structured approach to solving global problems.

Pat Leach

Nov 10 14

OR: We’re better than Economists!

by David Hutton

I admit: I often don’t attend the plenary sessions. I usually like to go to the sessions focused on areas close to my research. And I also value my time talking with colleagues I haven’t seen in a while. But, if you missed Jonathan Caulkins talk today on OR in services of Drug & Addiction Policy, you missed a good one. Here are some of the key take-aways:
1. Jonathan Caulkins has lots of cool stories of how he’s used simple OR methods to get some great insights into drug policy. He has several stories where economists were using regression models to look at historical changes in drug use. Unfortunately, the regression models could not to model the big swings and drop-offs observed in actual drug use. As many of us OR-types know, swings up and down might be indicative of more complex systems dynamics. Jonathan was able to use some simple models like the Bass model of product diffusion and a simple two-state Markov model to both dramatically replicate observed historical patterns of drug use and also show how the type of drug users (light and heavy) could have a dramatic impact on what types of intervention policies might work best.  The Office of National Drug Control Policy felt these analyses were some of the most insightful they have ever seen.
2. A little data can go a long way: Jonathan was able to combine small datasets on drug prices and drug purity over time to get some great new insights into how supply-side shocks affected drug use and health outcomes (e.g., accurately explaining an 80% decrease in heroin deaths in 2001 Australia). As he said, “you learn more going from 1 to 100 data points than from 100 million to 1 billion data points.”
3. From his experience influencing policy, he thinks we could make a few slight updates to our OR curriculum to make our students the next generation of policy leaders, leading interdisciplinary teams. He thinks OR grads would be better suited to this than the amalgam of economists and lawyers currently leading policy teams. That’s probably a bigger discussion in need of its own blog post. I’m sure many of you have thoughts on that as well.

Nov 10 14

INFORMS: Perspectives – Eoin O’Mahony on Bikesharing in New York City

by David Morrison

The first three sessions I’ve attended at INFORMS this year have all been student paper competitions; in my opinion, the paper competitions are some of the very best talks at the Annual Meetings. The nice thing is that there are so many of them! I went to the Doing Good with Good OR and Nicholson presentations, but there’s also a best-paper competition hosted by SPPSN (Public Programs, Services, and Needs), the Junior Faculty Interest Group (JFIG) competitions, and many others. I definitely encourage you to try to attend some of these competitions to listen to some highly-skilled presenters talk about cutting-edge research being done in OR.

However, many of these talks are already over, so if you didn’t get a chance to see them, I’m highlighting one here in my first entry for INFORMS: Perspectives. So without further ado, here we go!


Eoin (pronounced Owen, not Oyn, and most certainly not E-oyn) O’Mahony is a fifth-year PhD student at Cornell University, working under David Shmoys (who, by the way, is an INFORMS Fellow!). This is his first time at INFORMS, and he’s off to a great start as a finalist in the Doing Good with Good OR student prize competition.

In his talk this morning, entitled Smarter Tools for (Citi)bike Sharing, he described his research efforts to optimize the bike-sharing economy in New York City. In short, Citibike is an organization that provides bicycles to commuters in NYC on a subscription basis to commute around Manhattan (to work, to the grocery store, and particularly vexing from an optimization perspective, the bars in Williamsburg on Friday afternoon). The problem is that sometimes these bikes don’t always return to where they’re needed, so Citibike has to rebalance the bike loads on a daily basis.

I sat down with Eoin after his talk to get some more perspective on the problem: “My work is on applying analytics, optimization, and data-driven thinking to the New York City bikeshare system,” he told me. The primary concern is managing imbalance by answering the following three questions:

  1. Where do bikes need to be?
  2. When do they need to be there?
  3. How do they get there?

Eoin applies a number of optimization techniques to solve this problem that will be very familiar to anyone in OR: continuous time Markov chains, linear programming, integer programming techinques, and approximation algorithms all feature prominently in his solution methods. And to great effect: in an article published in Science, Michael Pellegrino, the director of operations for the New York City bikeshare system, says that this work provides the “overarching vision for how we like our system to look.”

And this is what Eoin says is the most rewarding part of his research: “Being able to see and make an impact on the New York City landscape.” It hasn’t always been easy—bridging the gap between theory and practice, Eoin says, is quite difficult. He’s needed to find a model that is both computationally tractable, but also possible to reason about theoretically. And to top it off, they need buy-in from the stakeholders involved (I suspect this is another familiar refrain to OR folks here). Asked how to navigate all these roadblocks effectively, Eoin says, “Make yourself useful, quickly.” When I asked how one goes about that, he laughed and said, “Well, that’s the tricky bit, isn’t it?”

All in all, it sounded to me like Eoin is doing some really great work in New York City, and also in the INFORMS community. As we were attempting to find a spot to sit and talk, we commiserated on the multi-objective problem of “wanting to meet up with colleagues and friends” and “finding a place to sit down and think for a minute or two”—something that’s particularly challenging in this dynamic and exciting city. However, if you are interested in knowing how to implement a bikeshare system in your city, Eoin O’Mahony can solve that for you, so make sure to track him down this week. And best of luck in the DGWGOR competition! Head to the prize ceremony tonight to see the results!

Nov 9 14

Decision Analysis Celebrates 50th Anniversary

by Patrick Noonan

DSC01612On Saturday, Nov. 8, a large and diverse set of researchers and practitioners from across the field of decision analysis (DA) gathered to reflect on the past 50 years, and think ahead to the next 50. This pre-conference Golden Anniversary gathering featured an afternoon program of speakers, and an evening gala that honored the founders of the field and presented the first organizational decision quality award bearing their names.

During the afternoon, a large ballroom crowd first listened to an array of presenters review some history, including DA’s roots in economics, statistics, psychology and engineering, the crystallization of the field in the work of Harvard’s Howard Raiffa and Stanford’s Ron Howard, and the subsequent half-century of evolution and growth. In addition to historical reflections (by Detlof von Winterfelt, Warner North, Bob Winkler, Jim Matheson, Larry Phillips, David Bell and Tom Keelin), the historical program featured remarks from Raiffa and Howard themselves.

The second part of the afternoon featured a look ahead. Raiffa and Howard provided their own predictions and hopes for the next 50 years, followed by quick takes from Jim Smith, Robert Bordley, Melissa Kenny, Scott Cantor, Vicki Bier, Ali Abbas, Jeff Keisler, Trina Weller, Jason Merrick, Sandy Wrobel, Bill Klimack, and Elisabeth Paté-Cornell.

After a short break and reception, participants reassembled for an evening gala to honor and thanks the two founders, and to award the first Raiffa-Howard Award for Organizational Decision Quality. Toasts by Jeff Keisler (outgoing President of INFORMS’s Decision Analysis Society) and Carl Spetzler (CEO of the Strategic Decisions Group) preceded brief remarks by a senior representative from Chevron, whose work was chosen by a Board of Examiners convened by the award sponsor, the Society for Decision Professionals.DSC01635

The organizing committee was headed by Eric Bickel, who also provided opening and closing remarks for each of the sessions.

[more photos pending – hotel Internet bandwidth seems to be an issue at the moment!]

Nov 9 14

Doing Very Well Doing Good with Good OR

by Paul Rubin

I made it to the second session of the Doing Good with Good OR student paper competition (having missed the first in part due to a navigation error). If you have not been to one of these, put it on your itinerary now for next year’s meeting. The work was outstanding, the presentations were excellent, and the benefits to the clients were real (and far from trivial). All in all, it’s rather inspiring (and this is coming from someone with a long and carefully cultivated reputation as a harsh grader).

Note to the conference organizers: These sessions deserve all the attention they can get. Scheduling them into a room at the far end of the most remote corridor in the more remote hotel is not helpful.

Nov 9 14

The Exhibits Are Open

by Freeman Marvin

Head over to the Grand Ballroom for a look at2014-11-09 13.01.23 some great software.