Tag Archives: podcast and video

analytics vs. operations research

Former INFORMS President Anne Robinson recently talked about operations research and analytics in a YouTube video. As President of INFORMS, she did a lot of work to promote analytics in the OR/MS community and to understand perceptions of analytics vs. operations research. I really appreciate what Anne has done for our field. Her research efforts found that people perceived operations research is a toolbox whereas analytics was perceived as an end-to-end process for data discovery, problem formulation, implementation, execution, and value delivery. This is an interesting finding.

This is Anne’s answer to the question: What is the role of OR in analytics?

“Operations research is on the top of the food chain when it comes to analytic capabilities and potential game changing results.”

I love this.

Anne’s challenge is for us to make decision-makers understand that OR is as vital and necessary as analytics. Evangelize early and often. Given the popularity of analytics, we should be able to make some inroads in educating our peers in STEM about OR, but in the long run this may be tough to do. Analytics is the new kid on the block, and it already seems to have reached widespread adoption, whereas operations research–while being at the top of the food chain–is still somewhat of a mystery to those outside of our fairly small field. Operations research has had an identity crisis for a long time, and I don’t see that coming to an end.

I applaud INFORMS decisions to “own” analytics via Analytics Certification and the Conference on Business Analytics (formerly the INFORMS Practice Conference) rather than try to solely market “operations research” to the growing analytics crowd.

What do you think?


podcasts on women in math and engineering

One of the podcasts I regularly listen to (“Stuff Mom Never Told you“) recently has a series of four podcasts on women in STEM (one each for the S, T, E, and M). The engineering and math podcasts were the most interesting. Both podcasts covered many topics, so I’ll just highlight a couple of the topics discussed here.

The math podcast [Link] covered the history of women in math and focused on gender differences in math achievement (and sometimes, the lack thereof).

The engineering podcast [Link] covered pipeline issues in engineering (recruiting and retaining women). They discussed the success of industrial engineering in attracting women. This podcast will be of particular interest to readers of this blog. High school students (both girls and boys) are often unaware of what engineering is, and as a result, students who are good at math choose majors like math and physics instead of engineering. Increasingly, medicine and forensic science are attractive career options to high school students thanks to television programming. This podcast will resonate with those of us in operations research, which is even less known as a field than engineering (Many know that engineering exists, few know what engineers do. Fewer know that operations research exists(!) ).

Here are a few of my posts about women in math, science, and computing:

decision quality and baseball strategy

Miss baseball? Love operations research and analytics? Watch Eric Bickel’s 46-minute webinar called “Play Ball! Decision Quality and Baseball Strategy” here:

husband-and-wife team matches kidney donors to patients in a documentary

Last week I blogged about the husband and wife team that created Major League Baseball schedules for more than two decades [Link]. I discovered another operations research collaboration between a husband and wife team.

Math professor Sommer Gentry and her surgeon husband Dorry Segev discuss how to match kidney donors with those in need of a transplant using networks and integer programming. Their collaboration is featured in the documentary “The Right Match” (below).

In the documentary, they mention how administrators in a single hospital could match up the pairs locally, where there were just a few patients. Integer programming models were needed when considering patients across multiple hospitals, where there are hundreds of patients in need of a transplant. Jump ahead to about seven minutes in to see their discussion of the the network structure of the problem and its similarity to max cardinality matching.

This is a nice video that would be suitable to undergraduate and graduate students studying optimizations. It might be particularly motivating for undergraduates who have learned about less useful applications like the diet problem and optimal mix problems in a linear programming course.

Watch the video here:

Visit their web site: http://www.optimizedmatch.com/

See some of the press their research has received here.

For more reading, I recommend reading more about it on Hari Balasubramanian’s blog here.

the craft of major league baseball scheduling – a journey from 1982 until now

Grantland and ESPN has a short video [12:25] on the couple who created the major league baseball schedules in the pre-Mike Trick era (1982-2004). The husband-and-wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson used scheduling algorithms to set about 80% of the schedule. They found that the their algorithm could not come up with the entire schedule because the list of scheduling requirements led to infeasibility:

“It couldn’t do the whole schedule. That was where the big companies were falling apart. We analyzed the old schedules and found that none of them met the written requirements that the league gave to us. It turns out it was impossible to meet all of the requirements. So the secret was to really know how to break the rules.”

Watch the video here. The end of the video acknowledges how scheduling has evolved such that the entire schedules can be computer generated using combinatorial optimization software (the Stephensons even mention having to compete with a scheduling team from CMU). The video uses baseball scheduling as an avenue to illustrate how decision making and optimization has evolved in the past 30 years. I would highly recommend the video to operations research and optimization students.


operations research radio

Yesterday, Matt Saltzman, Mary Beth Kurz, and Doug Shier were on Clemson University’s radio program “Your Day.” It is an excellent and fun discussion about operations research. The program was archived and is available here:

Here is the program abstract:

Peter Kent is joined by Mary Beth Kurz, Associate Professor in Industrial Engineering, Matthew Saltzman, Associate Professor in Mathematical Sciences, and Doug Shier, Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Associate Dean in the School of Engineering and Science, all from Clemson University.  The discussion will focus on the practical application of quantitative methods in rational decision making to solve a wide range of problems arising in business and government, such as locating industrial plants, allocating emergency facilities, planning capital investments, designing communication systems, and scheduling production in factories

The show’s host discovered operations research through the Car Talk Puzzle TSP challenge (Mike Trick blogged about this challenge). Other OR applications discussed included circuit board manufacturing, finding the optimal number of check out lines to open, and whether single-queue/multiple-server models (e.g., bank tellers. Oh wait, no one does that any more. Let’s go with the DMV or going through customs) are better than multiple queue/multiple servers (e.g., the grocery store).

the forecasting models behind the power outages forecasts for Hurricane Sandy

I’m thrilled to have interviewed Seth Guikema about his forecasting models for hurricane power outages between his gigs on Good Morning America and Bloomberg. Seth is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and he is the rock star of hurricane power outage forecasts. I wrote about a Baltimore Sun article about his research not too long ago. On the podcast, he and I chat about the methodologies he uses in his models as well as how news sources like to turn scientific research into digestible sound bites.

Listen here: (or go directly to the mp3 here)

You can listen to the episode below or you can go to the podcast web page (where you can download to iTunes, etc.) and feed. I recommend subscribing to the feed or going directly to the Punk Rock OR Podcast iTunes page, but you can also find the podcast episodes on this blog by clicking on “Podcast” under “Categories” in the left column.

Seth’s models have gotten a lot of coverage. Here are a few places where you can see Seth’s work translated for a general lay audience:

Seth’s forecasts as of 6am on 10/29:

Total prediction: 11 million without power
MD: 2 million
DC: 300,000
NJ: 3.4 million
DE: 425,000
PA: nearly 4 million
Here is an image of where the power outages will occur:

Power outage forecasts for Hurricane Sandy (courtesy of Seth Guikema)

new podcast interview with an undergraduate researcher

I published a new podcast, an interview with my undergraduate research assistant Taylor Richard from Oberlin College. He worked on an REU funded by the National Science Foundation. He did a wonderful job this summer. In the podcast, he talks about what he worked on this summer, the lessons he learned from doing research, and his love of horror movies.

This podcast should appeal to those of us in OR/MS and more broadly to undergraduates in the sciences who are thinking about graduate school. Please forward this to students who might be interested.

You can listen to the episode below or you can go to the podcast web page (where you can download to iTunes, etc.) and feed. I recommend subscribing to the feed or going directly to the Punk Rock OR Podcast iTunes page, but you can also find the podcast episodes on this blog by clicking on “Podcast” under “Categories” in the left column.

unicorns and operations research

My latest–and overdue–podcast is about unicorns and operations research. No, not those unicorns. The unicorn we discuss is based on the English coat of arms, where it is fighting a lion for the crown. This is the beginning of the paper we discuss:

In an essay entitled The Unicorn, J. B. Priestley comments on the lion and the unicorn  depicted  on our national coat of arms as  fighting  for the crown. He draws an  analogy  from this to two strands which are dominant in the British character. On the one hand  are those characteristics which relate to the lion. These include the power of the establishment, the whole body of received knowledge and doctrine, the logical deductive approach to decisions and all that might in some sense be termed vertical thinking, vertical communication and vertical authority. He contrasts this with the unicorn qualities, which include imagination, poetry, liveliness, flair, the role of the unexpected, the ability to make discoveries by a sudden leap of intuition into the dark, and all those things which we might term horizontal thinking and relationships. Priestley’s conclusion was that Britain had downgraded the importance of the unicorn and was in danger of allowing the lion too much scope.

The purpose of this paper is to apply this conception to our own discipline and to make a plea for the admission of more unicorn qualities into our research, for, as Ackoff has reminded us, O.R. is in danger of becoming too respectable and too establishment oriented.

I recorded this podcast with my regular podcast partner Richard Garrett, a star OR undergraduate at VCU. We recorded this podcast in May (when we say “this month” in the podcast, we are referring to May). I sincerely apologize for taking so long to produce this podcast episode. I have another episode in the works that will be available on Friday. I am happy to say that Richard is now in the PhD program in Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems at RPI. It has been a pleasure to record podcasts and to do research with him. I am thrilled that he has moved on to bigger and more exciting things.


Rivett, P. (1981). In Praise of Unicorns, The Journal of the Operational Research Society , 32(12), 1051-1059.

new podcast on irrational fears

I released a new podcast episode about the risk of a few of my irrational fears in life. In this podcast, Richard Garrett and I discuss the risks of dying

  • in a car accident,
  • in a plane crash,
  • from being struck by lightning,
  • in an elevator, and
  • in a bear attack.

You will have to listen to the podcast to find out if you need to worry about any of these risks. I will blog about some of the topics in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. To give you a taste of what we will discuss the podcast, I will mention that not driving whole intoxicated or getting in a car with someone who is intoxicated reduces the risk of a car fatality by 31%. Always wearing your seat belt reduces your risk of a car fatality by 44%. Both are compared to the aggregate risk across the entire US population.

Bear attacks are less frequent than car fatalities. But just how much riskier are cars than bears? You’ll have to listen for the answer.

Sorry for the long delay on the podcast. If it’s any consolation, I think this is my best podcast yet. I hope you enjoy it. My other podcasts are here (or go to the podcast website). In the mean time, stay clear of bears!

What is your irrational fear?


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