Monthly Archives: January 2012

punk rock OR goes punk

I’ve maintained this blog for almost five years. I have also been waiting for almost five years for someone to call me out for not being “punk” enough for a Punk Rock OR blog. After all, I do even have a single tattoo.

That day has come!

David Baughman, a web developer for Boeing in Seattle, stumbled upon my blog. He later sent me the photoshopped picture (see below), showing me as a punk rocker.

He writes:

I found the article interesting, and your picture just yelled “conservative” so I had to say something.  My buddy Matt gets all credit for the photoshop genius, and I’ll just take credit for the idea.

Punk Rock Laura

This is a photoshopped version of me.

This photo is as punk rock as I am willing to be, at least on days other than Halloween. I will continue to enjoy life as a fake punk rocker.  In my Science of Better podcast interview with Barry List, I discuss the blog name and my thoughts on tattoos.


no confidence in confidence intervals

With all of the upcoming primaries, I have been reading a little bit about polling data.  Nate Silver of the NY Times discusses how frequently a candidate’s vote total falls in the margin of error (based on poll data) .  Usually, 95% confidence intervals are reported, so you would expect a candidate’s numbers to be outside the confidence interval ~5% of the time.

FiveThirtyEight has a database consisting of thousands of primary and caucus polls dating back to the 1970s. Each poll contains numbers for several candidates, so there are a total of about 17,000 observations. How often does a candidate’s actual vote total fall within the theoretical margin of error?

The answer is, not very often. In theory, a candidate’s actual vote total should fall outside the margin of error only 5 percent of the time. In reality, the candidate’s vote total was outside the margin of error 65 percent of the time! Part of this is because the database includes some polls conducted months before the actual voting took place. But even if you restrict the analysis to polls conducted within the final week of the campaign, about 40 percent of the vote totals fell outside the margin of error — eight times more often than is supposed to happen if you could take the margin of error at face value. [emphasis added]

Silver argues that it is important to recalibrate the polling data based on the accuracy of past polls. To make predictions about election/primary results based on polling data, he (b) adjusts the results based on how recent the polls are (more recent = more accurate), (c) accounts for undecided voters, and (c) accounts for “momentum.” Silver’s methodology can be found here and his prediction for the New Hampshire primary can be found here.

Related post:


New Years Resolutions for 2012

In the spirit of OR bloggers Mike Trick, Paul Rubin, John Poppelaars, and Thaddeus Sim, here are a few New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Punk Rock OR will try to gain weight: I blogged 74 times this past year. I’d like to average about two blog posts per week (>100 per year). It’s hard with twitter: would-be short blog posts tend to turn into tweets. I have achieved 3% of this goal so far.
  2. Figure out a way to reduce the amount of academic spam I receive.  Most of the spam I get is to attend conferences that are not in my area. I can simply “unsubscribe” to get off of these lists (I’ve been deleting lately). I’m not sure what to do about the emails that advertise “microarray technologies” and “maximize cell viability with uniform ultra-low storage.” I don’t even open these suspicious emails. Your feedback is welcome.
  3. Reduce the amount of service I perform at my university to make more time for research, professional service, and blogging. This is easier said than done, especially since I went up for tenure this year and the service load should only go up from here. See the PhD comic below to understand what I mean.
  4. Do some international travel. This is my sixth year as a faculty member and I haven’t gone an international trip yet. I have cabin fever. Please send me recommendations and invitations!
  5. Get a hobby. After having my third daughter in March, I’ve essentially stopped all of my hobbies. I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to train for another marathon. I need to run a half-marathon, read a few books, or plan a big sewing project or I will go crazy.

PhDcomics how professors spend time


I grew up near a fake city

I recently learned that map makers intentionally put fake roads, etc., into their maps to identify copyright infringements (when maps are stolen, even the errors are reproduced).  These are called copyright traps. I grew up outside of Chicago near Ohare International Airport. I heard that Rand McNally once put a fake town near Ohare in their maps. I checked up on it and and found that it is true. The fake town is called Westdale and it appeared in the 1981-1983 editions of Rand McNally’s maps. Westdale is near a “Westdale Park” and a “Westdale Elementary School” (see it on google maps here).

Here is a link to more on copyright traps from the Straight Dope (the 1991 edition). This author was skeptical about the existence of the fake Chicago suburb, but it was written before google. I found the rest of the information to be interesting.


year in review

This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2011. Thanks for reading!

I wrote 74 new posts this year and included 36 pictures in my posts.

The busiest day of the year was February 18th with 599 views. The most popular post that day was a six year old solves the subset sum problem: a post on an operations research science fair project.

Here are my top* 10 blog posts of 2011

  1. a six year old solves the subset sum problem: a post on an operations research science fair project
  2. Bracket Odds for March Madness: A tool for picking a winning bracket
  3. How can ice cream trucks be profitable when gas costs $4 per gallon?
  4. is anything really exponentially distributed?
  5. what operations research has taught me about having a baby
  6. a few more thoughts on operations research and coffee: multiobjective decision analysis
  7. how to visit all 30 MLB baseball stadiums in a record amount of time
  8. a few thoughts on operations research and coffee
  9. how to (optimally) prepare for a zombie outbreak
  10. how to choose a good academic family

The top 10 search terms used to find this blog in 2011 are:

  1. plantain
  2. punk rock operations research
  3. roomba algorithm
  4. opt art
  5. composition notebooks
  6. plantains
  7. plantain recipes
  8. subset sum problem
  9. punk rock
  10. tsp art

Many variants on “punk rock” were lower on the list, including punk rock stereotypes, punk rock lego, punk social network, punk rock blog, punk sewing blog, and punk christmas tree.

* top = most-read


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