Category Archives: Uncategorized

what Punk Rock OR is reading

  1. This science article about models of reality by Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & the  City is brilliant. “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
  2. Mona Chalabi at FiveThirtyEight asks if the express line at the grocery store is really the fastest, examines queuing theory and the psychology of queuing. Fantastic!
  3. WIRED on perfect graphs, cliques, coloring books, and wedding guest table assignments.
  4. Ted Koppel appeared on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR to talk about the power grid, homeland security, and network interdiction [podcast]
  5. The lady loves statistics: an exercise to find the best chocolate to eat after swimming/not sweimming using classification and clustering methods
  6. Make your own domino artwork based on Bob Bosch’s optimization art models on the NEOS server! Mine is below.


engineering systems: critical infrastructure and logistics

This semester I am team teaching an introduction to engineering course for freshmen (EGR102 at UW-Madison). The course is designed to help students choose a major in engineering by exploring engineering grand challenges. In the course, students discover that there are thousands of ways to be an engineer, not just 10 ways to be an engineer (corresponding to the 10 engineering majors). I believe this approach helps to retain students in engineering, particularly women and minority students who may not have enough role models in engineering to help them feel like they belong.

138 students are enrolled this semester. Students have several common lectures in a large lecture hall. Then, we divide the students into sections (“themes”) of 20-24 students so they can explore a topic in more detail. Each theme must cut across all the engineering majors so it has something for everyone. Each student is assigned to 2 of the 6 themes for about 8 classes each:

Theme 1: Engineering Solutions for a Healthy World
Theme 2: Safety and Risk-Analysis of Emerging Technology
Theme 3: Critical Infrastructures and Logistics (mine!)
Theme 4: Megacities and Urban Engineering
Theme 5: Controlling Carbon: Powering our Future Societies
Theme 6: Global Engineering Challenges: Energy and Water

Here is my list of required and recommended reading for my theme on critical infrastructure and logistics.

Media about cities and the engineering challenges that cities provide:

Systems thinking and engineering design

Thinking about next-generation transportation, public transit, and the sustainability of public transit:

Self-driving cars

Smartgrid, the connected home, and cyber-security


Non-technical constraints

Here are the course learning objectives:
By the end of this class, students should be able to…
1) Identify a societal problem that requires an engineering solution and identify non-technical constraints.
2) Design multidisciplinary engineering approaches to societal problems.
3) Appraise and evaluate these engineering approaches.
4) Compare and contrast various engineering solutions.
5) Identify the different engineering disciplines and describe how each can contribute to the solution of grand challenge problems
6) Find, select, and correctly document credible sources for use in a group research project.
7) Summarize and discuss important facts, ideas, and arguments from different sources in well-crafted written assignments.
8) Present research findings on a coherent and defined topic to the class in a clear, organized, and persuasive manner using the appropriate media tools.

Related reading:

my tutORial from #informs2015: discrete optimization models for homeland security and disaster management

I gave a tutORial at the 2015 INFORMS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA last week. Several people asked for my slides, so here they are.

See the full list of tutORials here. Download chapters here (for conference goers only – email me if you want a copy of my chapter).

Thanks to Dionne Aleman and Aurélie Thiele for being excellent volume editors, and to J. Cole Smith for serving as the tutORial series editor.

what Punk Rock OR is reading

  1. How long would it take for vampires to annihilate the world? 165 to 50 years, somewhere in that range.
  2. UPS’s Jack Levis on saving time, money, and gas with analytics [YouTube]
  3. More on math and the myth of the myth of the hot hand by UW-Madison’s Jordan Ellenberg
  4. Anna Nagurney looks forward to INFORMS 2015 and congratulates the student chapter award winners.
  5. Heading to the INFORMS Annual Meeting? You can view the conference program here.
  6. What if your self-driving car decides to sacrifice you to save others? The robot uprising will have a few disadvantages.
  7. New general purpose optimization algorithm based on cutting planes promises order-of-magnitude speedups on some problems. See the video lecture here.
  8. Joe Biden and Paul Ryan: an unlikely alliance of working fathers. We need to include dads in work life balance conversations.
  9. Where are all the OR professionals hiding?

Should a football team run or pass? A game theory and linear programming approach

Last week I visited Oberlin College to deliver the Fuzzy Vance Lecture in Mathematics (see post here). In addition, I gave two lectures to Bob Bosch’s undergraduate optimization course. My post about my lecture on ambulance location models is here.

My second lecture was about how to solve two player zero-sum games using linear programming. The application was a sports analytics application of whether a football team should run or pass. The purpose of the lecture was to learn about zero-sum games (it was a new topic to most students) and learn how to solve zero-sum games with two decision-makers using linear programming.

This lecture tied into my Badger Bracketology work, but since I do not use optimization in my college football playoff forecasting model, I selected another football application.


Related reading:

integer programming for locating ambulances

Last week I visited Oberlin College to deliver the Fuzzy Vance Lecture in Mathematics (see post here). In addition, I gave two lectures to Bob Bosch’s undergraduate optimization course. I will post my materials for both of my lectures on my blog. The first lecture was related to my evening talk and focused on ambulance location models and modeling integer programs.

The purpose of the lecture was to work on modeling in integer programming. We focused on coverage models and worked through two of the three models that successively lift simplifying assumptions (in a 75 minute lecture). The “Integer Programming Bag of Tricks” on slide 18 contains a series of constraints for modeling conditional constraints (courtesy of Jeff Linderoth and Jim Luedtke). We use these tricks to assign at least L calls for service (demand) to stations–but only stations that are “open”–in the modeling exercise. Slides are below.

Related reading:

Punk Rock OR goes to Oberlin College

This week I visited Oberlin College to deliver the Fuzzy Vance Lecture in Mathematics. I was honored to be the 20th Fuzzy Vance lecturer. Each year, Oberlin invites one mathematician (or an operations researcher/fake mathematician in my case!) to visit campus, participate in classes, and give a lecture (the “Fuzzy Vance Lecture”) to the general public.

My evening talk to the public was about my research in emergency medical services and emergency response. My slides and some pictures from my visit are below. I will post my teaching materials on my blog next week.

Oberlin is a small liberal arts college that attracts intelligent students who have eclectic interests. Many students are interested in music, creative writing, and computer science in addition to math. I enjoyed meeting with students when I taught Bob Bosch’s undergraduate course in optimization, which mostly has students from math and computer science.

Bob Bosch and his colleagues in the Oberlin math department were fantastic hosts. They filled me in on the history of the Fuzzy Vance Lecture series, but there was some disagreement about whether Fuzzy Vance was actually fuzzy (nicknamed for fuzzy hair or for another mysterious reason). I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Oberlin is known for its unusual albino squirrel population. I am a fan of campus squirrels: the squirrels at my alma mater have had an interesting history.

Here are some memories from my visit.


The poster for the Fuzzy Vance Lecture Series in Mathematics

The poster for the Fuzzy Vance Lecture Series in mathematics



Rock and Roll Hall of Fame advertisements were everywhere in Cleveland. I was thrilled to be able to visit the museum during my visit.


Bob Bosch and I found The Clash exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.


My favorite crosswalk in Oberlin, which boasts one of the best music conservancies in the US.


Pablo Picasso, Chair and Owl (1947) from the Oberlin art museum


Claude Monet, The Red Kerchief from the Oberlin art museum


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