Friday, April 30, 2010

The Last Spring 2010 Lecture in Operations Research / Management Sciences

Today we were treated to a wonderful lecture by Professor Mehmet Gumus of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Professor Gumus concluded our Spring 2010 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Sciences
with a lecture on supply chains, information asymmetry, and agreements between a buyer and a reliable and a not reliable suppliers. He brought in such issues as visibility and insurance and considered uncertainty associated with the capacities of the suppliers. His results were very interesting and well-presented.

The lecture was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful Spring Speaker Series and to a wonderful set of talks that we hosted all year.

As the Faculty Advisor to the award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, I thank all of our terrific guest speakers, and commend the chapter officers and members.

Next Tuesday, we will be recognizing our chapter officers as well as staff members who have been so helpful to our chapter's activities all year at a party at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst.

Above are some photos taken during Professor Gumus' visit on a simply spectacular April day.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fragile Networks Book Makes a Best Seller List!

I am delighted to share with you that, according to the Academic Newswire and the Library Journal, the Fragile Networks book that I co-authored with my former doctoral student, Patrick Qiang, is a top 20 best seller in the Engineering/Technology category. Our publisher, John Wiley & Sons, is very pleased by this recognition. This is based on data since July 2009. Our book is number 20 on this best seller list and the list contains some very well-known authors and very prestigious presses.

This news appeared in the April 8 edition

or you can access the best seller list directly here.

The book is relevant to numerous applications, ranging from critical infrastructure (transportation networks, electric power networks, financial networks, the Internet) to military operations, corporate supply chains and mergers and acquisitions, as well as humanitarian logistics. It was recently featured in the Air Force Research Laboratory Library Newsletter at Wright-Patterson's Air Force Base.

New Book and Experiment -- Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do

Albert Laszlo Barabasi's new book, which is for a general audience, is to be published today. Barabasi is the physicist (originally from Transylvania, which adds to his mystique) who has been promoting the science of networks since 1998 through his scholarly publications as well as through such books as Linked. He is now a chaired professor at Northeastern University in Boston, having left Indiana University not that long ago.

His new book, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do, according to the publisher, Dutton Adult, provides an analysis of our electronic trails from mobile phones to the Internet and email and offers deep insights into the rhythm of how we do everything. According to Barabasi: We work and fight and play in short flourishes of activity followed by next to nothing. The pattern isn't random, it's "bursty." Randomness does not rule our lives in the way scientists have assumed up until now.

More about this book can be found here
. We hosted Dr. Barabasi in our Speaker Series in the Spring of 2006 and he spoke on the architecture of real networks.

Recently, I received the following message from Barabasi, which discusses an experiment to complement the publication of Bursts.

Dear Friends and Colleagues

some of are aware that I have spent the last two years working on a general audience book, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do, that will published in three weeks, on April 29, 2010. Yet, it is not the book that I am writing about, but rather an experiment motivated by it that I hope you will join and enjoy.

BuRSTS is a performance in human dynamics, a game of cooperation and prediction, that will gradually unveil the full text of Bursts. In a nutshell, if you register at, you will be able to adopt one of the 84,245 words of the book. Once you adopt, the words adopted by others will become visible to you -- thus as each words finds a parent, the whole book will become visible to the adopters. But if you invite your friends (and please do!) and you are good at predicting hidden content, the book will unveil itself to you well before all words are adopted. We will even send each day free signed copied of Bursts to those with the best scores.

I am fully aware of the chronic lack of time we all suffer from. Yet, I do hope that you will join us in this fascinating experiment, being part of this collective Burst!

truly yours,


Albert-László Barabási

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Daffodil Lectures on Sustainability and the Environment at UMass Amherst Were Terrific!

Last weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Daffodil Lectures at the new Integrated Sciences Building at UMass Amherst. The panel was moderated by Dr. Julie Brigham-Grette of UMass Amherst, who has done a lot of climate research in the Arctic, and consisted of Dr. Raymond Bradley, the renowned climate scientist, who is also of UMass Amherst, Andrew Revkin, a graduate of Brown University, my alma mater, and the founder of the blog Dot Earth, and former New York Times reporter, who is now a Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace University in NYC, and Dr. Bron Taylor of the University of Florida, who is a Professor of Religion and Nature.

Dr. Raymond Bradley spoke about the world's population now being at 6.3 billion and increasing at a rate of the addition of the greater Boston area every 2 weeks. He spoke about the associated increases in methane, phosphates, and CO2 and polar bears whose bodies are filled with such man-made toxins as PCBs. He spoke about our need to reenvision land use.

He presented a graphic with a red circle boundary and said that we are pushing the earth beyond sustainability levels. He noted how such man-made inventions as the steam engine, which gave rise to the use of coal, and the internal combustion engine, to the rise of fossil fuels, have yielded a relentless rise in greenhouse gasses over the last century and a half. He noted that it is the cumulative emissions of CO2 and their effects since the Industrial Revolution that matter.

Dr. Bradley put up a quote of Al Gore's, dated December 10, 2007, that said "what were you thinking, why didn't you act." His presentation was very clear and very powerful.

Andrew Revkin (whose godson, by the way, is a UMass Amherst student, and who introduced him) began with saying that we are facing a "super wicked" problem with 9 billion people expected to be inhabiting this earth at the end of the century. In 1800, he said, there were 1 billion humans, and today, in 2010, there are 1 billion teenagers (alone). He spoke of the horrible poverty in parts of the globe and highlighted through a photo of how in Guinea students have to go to an airport parking lot because that is the only place that is sufficiently lit for them to do their homework at night. He showed us a photo of a home in Holland that "floats" since the sea levels are rising and the owners want to be prepared for the worst. He emphasized the paucity of investment over the years in energy research, where we need sociological and technological breakthroughs. He said that this generation is Generation E and that there is no "Planet B" so we should care about our planet.

Dr. Taylor spoke about his worldwide travels and how the natural world can bring deep spirituality to one's life. He talked about his books and especially about the "deep green religion."

There was a music ensemble afterwards and a wonderful table with all sorts of appetizers and desserts. This event was a very fitting tribute to the 10th anniversary of what is known as the Commonwealth College at UMass Amherst.

Above I have included several photos of the panelists.

Multi-product Supply Chains, Network Integration, and Mergers and Acquisitions

Now that the economy appears to be recovering, more and more companies are looking at mergers and acquisitions as a means of further reducing costs, expanding markets, and creating possible synergy.

In a study, Multi-product Horizontal Supply Chain Network Integration: Models, Theory, and Computational Results, published in the International Journal of Operational Research, (2010), vol. 17, pp. 333-349, we developed a framework for the identification of potential synergy associated with network integration in the case of multi-product firms. The perspective was that of system-optimization and total cost reduction associated with the sharing of resources, such as facilities (from manufacturing plants to distribution centers) within a general supply chain network framework.

The study was conducted with two of my former doctoral students, who are now professors at Business Schools: Dr. Trisha Woolley, who is a Professor at Texas Wesleyan University, and Dr. Patrick Qiang, who is a Professor at the Penn State Great Valley Campus.

The network approach that we developed can be applied to assess the potential synergy a priori of different potential mergers and acquisitions, from airlines to consumer product companies and even financial services and oil companies. Since the perspective is that of system-optimization, the tools can also be applied to the assessment of teams as in the partnering of organizations in humanitarian logistics operations.

The paper is also available at the Virtual Center for Supernetworks website.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Death by PowerPoint and Hypnotizing Chickens

The New York Times has an article by Elisabeth Bumiller, with a terrific spaghetti-like graphic on the military's overuse and overreliance on PowerPoint (PPT) presentations, at the expense of careful, thoughtful analysis. In the article, the leader of the American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, is quoted as saying: “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” with his audience erupting in laughter.

From the Pentagon to Iraq and Afghanistan, from the boardrooms to the classrooms, PowerPoint presentations have become the props that are used for presentations. In the article, General Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, states: “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”

Military commanders note that a typical PPT relays less information than a five-page paper can hold, and the presenter does not need to carefully write to deliver an analytic point. PPTs are sometimes referred to as "hypnotizing chickens" since they dull the audience into a stupor.

Frankly, the time wasted by military and corporate analysts in preparing such talks could be put into much better use and the same goes for their seated audiences. The time would be better spent by crafting more thorough analyses and writing up the results. Presentations could then be given, with the articles disseminated, in a discussion-like setting with a white or blackboard or paperboard to highlight dynamically the relevant points. We have become, to our detriment, a visual society that craves animation and images, at the expense of thorough analysis and evidential support.

When giving the majority of my presentations
(and I have a pile coming up to give internationally) I use latex beamer rather than PowerPoint. In this way, I can include mathematical expressions, and more thorough analyses. Every presentation that I give at a conference, workshop, or seminar is based on 1 or more refereed journal articles so the results are verified.

As for teaching, despite carefully prepared slides, nothing beats the give and take of doing numerous examples on the board and interacting with the students, through Q&A, to make sure that they understand the material.

Life, whether in the classroom or at war, is not two-dimensional as PowerPoint slides are, which can dull and deaden our minds and, frankly, waste precious time.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Loving What You Do and Solving the Biggest Problems

CNN has an Opinion Piece by Professor Terence Tao, about whom I have written about in this blog when Forbes featured him. In the Opinion Piece, Professor Tao's love of his work shines through. He is a renowned mathematician, having started his PhD at Princeton at the age of 16, and is now a Professor of Mathematics and the James and Carol Collins Chair in the College of Letters and Science at UCLA. He was born in Australia and is also a citizen of the US.

He writes that, as a child, he: loved games with clear, unambiguous rules; puzzles that were tough but fair; and the clean, abstract, simplicity of numbers and symbols. He says that: it is perhaps not surprising that [he] has been drawn to mathematics for as long as [he] can remember.

Life is not always fair, but being part of a profession that acknowledges when you solve an important problem, is very satisfying (of course, the individual gets the personal satisfaction of the discovery as well and gets it first).

Professor Tao then states that: mathematics was not just an abstract game of symbols, but could be used as a tool to analyze and understand the modern world.

Indeed, the tools of mathematics (accompanied by the use of computers, I might add) are being applied to solve problems in business (from logistics to marketing to finance and accounting). Math is used in healthcare, and in humanitarian operations. It is an essential tool in engineering, in physics, in computer science, in economics, in sociology, and even in biology. Math makes the world hum. It makes order out of disorder and helps to explain chaos. Math "works" and helps to resolve the greatest puzzles of today.

Besides what could be more gratifying than solving problems!

Bill Gates (who needs no introduction) recently visited Harvard University and spoke there. He said, in his speech, that the biggest problems require the best minds. You can find some of the problems that he believes need our attention in this Harvard Gazette article. Obviously, innovative and accessible education is the foundation for it all!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lecture on: Supply Side Story: Risks, Guarantees, Competition and Information Asymmetry

Next Friday, April 30, 2010, the last Speaker Seminar in Operations Research / Management Sciences of the Spring semester will take place. We are delighted to be hosting Professor Mehmet Gumus, of the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst.

Biography: Dr. Mehmet Gumus is an Assistant Professor of Operations Management at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. He joined McGill University in 2007. He received his PhD from the University of California at Berkeley in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. In his research, Dr. Mehmet Gumus develops and analyzes mathematical models related to supply chain management, dynamic pricing and revenue management, supply disruption, and risk management. He is also interested in modeling the strategic customer behavior and how it affects the firm's profit. He has worked with a number of companies including Pratt & Whitney, and Navis LLC.

PRESENTATION TITLE: "Supply Side Story: Risks, Guarantees, Competition and Information Asymmetry."

Abstract: The risk of supply disruption has increased as firms have started procuring more from cheaper, but unreliable, suppliers. In this paper, we model a supply chain comprising a single buyer and two suppliers who compete for the buyer's order. One of the suppliers is more expensive but reliable, while the other (unreliable) one is cheaper but faces risk of supply disruption. The risk level of the unreliable supplier might be private information for her and this lack of visibility further contributes to the buyer's purchasing risk. In such settings, the unreliable supplier often offers a price and quantity (availability) guarantee to the buyer as part of her contract terms. Our objective is to understand the underlying motivation for such a guarantee offer and the effects such an offer have on the performance of the chain partners. We characterize the equilibrium contracts for the two suppliers, and the buyer's procurement strategy for both symmetric and asymmetric information cases. Our analysis indicates that supply guarantee plays two important roles. First, it allows the unreliable supplier to better compete against the reliable one by providing supply assurance to the buyer. More importantly, when information asymmetry risk is high, a guarantee offer enables the unreliable supplier to credibly signal her true supply risk to the buyer improving the visibility in the chain. This additional role causes guarantees to be a more usable strategy in an asymmetric information setting (compared to a symmetric one) from the viewpoint of the unreliable supplier. However, from the buyer's perspective, guarantee provision in an asymmetric setting might reduce the competition between the suppliers resulting in higher contract prices, and, consequently, higher costs for him (and higher profits for the reliable supplier)

Date: Friday, April 30, 2010
Time: 11:00AM - Noon
Place: Room ISOM 112

The announcement for this talk can be found at:

This talk will conclude twelve semesters of this Speaker Series, which the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter has helped me to organize.

INFORMS Student Chapter website:

Video of the Traffic Panel at the World Science Festival

A video of the Traffic panel: !@#$% Traffic: From Insects to Interstates that took place at the World Science Festival in NYC last June is now available.

The panel was moderated by Robert Krulwich of NPR and ABC with the panelists that joined me being: Dr. Iain Couzin of Princeton University and Dr. Mitchell Joachim of Columbia University. We were on stage at the Kimmel Center at NYU with over 400 in the audience.

The video is not of the entire panel discussions, and the accompanying Q&A with the audience, which I enjoyed very much, as well, but you can view the segment here and you can get a sense of how fascinating traffic and transportation are! It contains a discussion of the Braess paradox and the closing of Broadway from 47th to 42nd Streets.

You can find other video segments from the World Science Festival (even on Avian Einsteins and Pioneers in Science) on that same link.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

MBA Gender Pay Gap -- Delusions of Progress

My colleague in Finance, Professor Ben S. Branch, brought to our attention an article, Women in Management: Delusions of Progress, in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), in its March 2010 edition.

The article was written by Nancy M. Carter and Christine Silva, who found that women make, on the average, $4,600 less than men in their first post MBA jobs. The study conducted by them controlled for job level and industry. Men's salaries not only begin at a higher level, but then rise more quickly, with the consequence that the salary gap widens over time (and the researchers factored out such issues as having children or different goals/aspirations). The research tracked over 4,000 MBAs who graduated between 1996 and 2007.

Carter and Silva work for the firm Catalyst. They write in their HBR article: New research by our firm, Catalyst, shows that among graduates of elite MBA programs around the world—the high potentials on whom companies are counting to navigate the turbulent global economy over the next decade—women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional jobs. Reports of progress in advancement, compensation, and career satisfaction are at best overstated, at worst just plain wrong.

Jim Turley, the Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, a sponsor of the research study, is quoted as saying “Frankly, the fact that the pipeline is not as healthy as we’d thought is both surprising and disappointing.” “Companies have been working on this, and I thought we’d seen progress. The last decade was supposed to be the ‘promised one,’ and it turns out that it wasn’t. This is a wake-up call for corporations.”

Companies (at least we had thought this) were, supposedly, engaged in efforts to enhance opportunities for women, but inequity remains entrenched.

Carter and Silva conclude that: companies must acknowledge their failure on this front, learn why they haven’t succeeded, and come up with better programs to help talented women advance. Interestingly, they also noted, in their study, that women tend to suffer from "bad, first bosses," who did not mentor them or support them.

Read their provocative and timely HBR article.

I thank my colleague, Professor Ben Branch, for bringing our attention to it. We need to act at all levels to reduce and to eliminate economic and financial disparities and to make sure that there is a level playing field for everyone. Listen up folks, the solution is not to have a world of just males.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Terrific Operations Research Lecture on Multistage Optimization

Today we were treated to a brilliant lecture by Professor Dimitris Bertsimas of the Sloan School at MIT, who spoke on Advances in Multistage Optimization in our Spring 2010 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst. Professor Bertsimas is my "academic brother-in-law" since he is married to Professor Georgia Perakis, also a Professor at the Sloan School, whose doctoral dissertation advisor at Brown University was my dissertation advisor, Professor Stella Dafermos. Both Georgia and I have PhDs in Applied Math from Brown (with concentrations in Operations Research (O.R.)), so we are "academic sisters."

Professor Bertsimas began his lecture by recalling his conversations with Professor George Dantzig (now deceased), of Stanford University, when he visited Stanford 16 years ago. He said how much Dantzig (who is considered the Father of our field) had valued and had worked on planning under uncertainty. Above I have a photo from Bertsimas' lecture today that displays a photo of Dantzig. Professor Bertsimas discussed the challenges of stochastic programming (and probability theory) from a practical, computational perspective. He then moved on to adaptive optimization and discussed the advantages of robust optimization and some bounds that he had obtained which were not only powerful, but also surprising. He discussed applications to electric power generation, finance, and inventory management. Robust optimization "takes a deterministic view to protect yourself." The problem class in robust optimization that he focused on in his presentation is tractable and practically solvable.

The audience included faculty from Management Science, Finance, Computer Science, Economics, as well as students from many departments and guests who came even from Boston. We had a splendid lunch afterwards at the University Club with conversations that related wonderful stories about academic adventures, travels, research, and various universities (always fun to compare notes on such topics).

It was an honor to be able to host Professor Bertsimas in our Speaker Series!

Feet and Buses First -- Another Miracle by Macy's?!

Michael M. Grynbaum writes in The New York Times about another plan by Mayor Bloomberg and his NYC administration to ban automobiles on the block between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, creating a pedestrian plaza bookended by Herald Square and the Empire State Building. The plan is to support certain modes of transportation (but not cars or taxis) in that area -- in particular, those that travel by foot, i.e., pedestrians, as well as those that ride the buses.

According to the plan (and article), the final design for the plaza and traffic changes is expected in fall 2011, with the street ready for use by the end of 2012. The redesign is expected to cost a minimum of $30 million, and officials said they would continue to tweak the plan based on public reaction and in-house studies.

The city's transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, who is very gutsy and innovative, said that: “It’s going to improve the mobility along the corridor.” “We expect the bus travel times to improve by up to 35 percent, which is something that up to 33,000 passengers that currently travel crosstown will appreciate.”

I have written about the Braess paradox in both the scholarly literature and in this blog and that the closure of Broadway from 42nd to 47st Street in NYC is like the reverse of the Braess Paradox (in which the addition of a new route results in all the travelers being worse off in terms of travel time).

This new proposal by the same administration shows vision and concern about traffic efficiency as well as sustainability.

I see another Miracle on 34th Street (the name also of a favorite holiday movie) taking place!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Greening of Supply Chains and Earth Day

Today is Earth Day and there are many special celebrations going on to mark this day!

One of my passions is studying and analyzing supply chains in a holistic, system-wide way and finding ways in which supply chains can be made greener. Two aspects to this is to enhance the manufacturing links as well as the transportation links. As is well-known, today's supply chains are global in nature, so in order to reduce carbon imprints, and to assist in sustainability, one must capture all the supply chain network activities.

Interestingly, Louis Uchetelle writes in the New York Times that the Green Economy is Not Yet Made in U.S.A. (but we are working hard on this). The article quotes a colleague of mine at UMass Amherst, Dr. Robert Pollin, who has done studies for the administration estimating the impact and who is also optimistic: Clean energy is a huge opportunity to revive manufacturing. Last May, we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Pollin, who spoke in our Speaker Series at the Isenberg School on "How Green Growth Can Revive the Economy," and he was simply terrific!

Another aspect of greening of supply chains is to minimize the emissions associated with transportation and a big issue is how to keep those trucks coming back, as filled as possible. Ken Belson, also writing for the Times, in the Business of Green, in his article, Keeping Trucks Full, Coming and Going, notes that: Deadhead trips, as they are known, are a waste of fuel, money and time, and a producer of greenhouse gases. The article notes a neat, new initiative, known as Empty Miles, which is a program that is the brainchild of the Voluntary Interindustry Commerce Solutions Association, or VICS, a nonprofit group that tries to make the supply chain in consumer goods industries more efficient. Macy's (one of my absolutely favorite retailers) and J. C. Penney have both signed on. The more companies that sign on, the more the trucks will not be traveling empty, improving the flow of freight, while reducing emissions -- a win-win situation, which is terrific!

Let's celebrate the beauty of our Earth today and revel in knowing that by being more efficient, we can actually be more green!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

One Wish -- A Quiet Hotel

I will be doing a lot of traveling soon, from serving on a panel in the DC area, to giving talks in Cambridge (Massachusetts), Hawaii (an invitation I could not turn down), and Buenos Aires, Argentina (and this is just over the next couple of weeks).

I wish that there would be hotels that would guarantee peace and quiet or, at least, an area of a hotel, where the guests (as well as the staff) would agree to:

1. speak softly

2. close the doors very quietly

3. refrain from having the TV, radio, etc., at a noticable volume

4. not run up and down the halls screaming,

among some other points.

The last business trip that I was on I specifically requested a quiet room only to be put into a room that sounded like a subway tunnel. When I called the receptionist I was told that I was next to the laundry room, so I requested a room change. A hotel staff person then walked with me to several floors to see where it might be "quiet" and, finally, we found a room. After about 30 minutes some not quite "gentlemen" started banging on my door, and then one of them said, there is a "No Disturb Sign" on the knob. Indeed, there was, and I had put it there for a reason. These "guests" had been given a key to my room and were not happy that it was already taken. So I requested another move. By the third attempt, despite the banging of the doors, I stayed put.

I have slept in a rental car in Ireland while my family snoozed in the hotel since I could not stand the loud banging of the doors (and this was by the cleaning staff). The lightning during the storm (and the car was under trees) was preferable to me. At another hotel (also in Ireland, a country which was lovely to visit although I hardly slept there), a set of parents was in a hotel room on one side of us in a hall and their young children were way down the hall in a separate room (from the parents). You can only imagine the traffic back and forth past our room.

I have tried to sleep in a hotel in St. Petersburg, Russia (just before the fall of Communism and the USSR) only to have people peering into our room (my husband and I did not realize that the outdoor porches were connecting). Of course, the babushkas on each floor monitored our comings and goings as well.

I have tried to sleep at a hotel in Oslo only to hear a Back Street Boys concert right outside of it (at least some of the music was bearable in that age).

I tried to sleep in a hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, but there was a state high school wresting tournament going on, so sleeping was next to impossible.I still managed to somehow give my talk the next day.

As for NYC, I have found a relatively quiet hotel in Manhattan but will keep it a secret. You don't hear concierges whistling for taxis there nor ambulances and firetrucks blasting by. My suggestion (simple location analysis, really) do not situate a hotel close to a hospital or to a fire or police station!

I never travel without my BOSE headphones, but as wonderful as they are, they do not block out sudden hotel noises. I wish that there would be hotels, where the doors would close quietly, the floors would be carpeted, the walls, ceilings, and windows (which should open to get some air in), would be soundproof, and white noise machines would be placed in each room. Or, perhaps, someone can invent headphones to block out hotel noise (both inside and outside).

2010 World Science Festival -- Guess Who is Coming!

I received this past week a lovely letter from Professor Brian Greene and Ms. Tracy Day, the Co-Founders of the World Science Festival (WSF), that takes place in New York City in late Spring. The 2010 WSF will take place June 2-6, 2010, so save the dates!

Last year, I was an invited panelist on Traffic, along with Drs. Iain Couzin and Mitchell Joachim at the 2009 Festival, with Robert Krulwich of NPR and ABC, as our panel moderator. That event, plus numerous others, associated with the WSF, which focuses on bringing the excitement and wonder of science and discoveries to the public, were just fabulous! I blogged about this fascinating festival on this blog. Below is a photo from the Traffic panel.

The letter from Greene and Day (who are husband and wife, by the way, and a terrific team all-around) announced that Dr. Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, of Cambridge University in England, will be taking part in the 2010 WSF's Opening Night Gala Performance on Wednesday, June 2, at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall!

Although Dr. Hawking has suffered for years from Lou Gehrig's disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that affects muscle control) for which he uses a wheelchair and speaks through a computer and voice synthesizer, he remains very active professionally and has given talks around the world. I recall him speaking in China a few years back and was so impressed by his stamina and professionalism, despite his disability, that when an opportunity came to me to speak in China, I had to accept. Dr. Hawking is an incredible scientist and role model.

A quote from Professor Hawking's website: Among the most important people to both Stephen and his work are the PhD students that he supervises. This quote really resonates with me!

The Gala Evening at Alice Tully Hall will also feature Alan Alda (a great supporter of this festival and science), Yo-Yo Ma, and Damian Woetzel, among others. It will be the setting for the world premier of Icarus at the Edge of Time, an orchestral work composed by Philip Glass, with libretto by Brian Greene and David Henry Hwang!

I would like to thank the organizers of the WSF and all the supporters for bringing the wonder and pleasures of science to NYC and the world!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Edelman Prize Goes to Mexico's Indeval!

The 2010 Edelman Prize of $10,000 has been announced at the INFORMS Practice Meeting in Orlando, Florida. This year's award goes to Mexico's Indeval.

According to the press release: Indeval, the Mexican Central Securities Depository for all financial securities, manages Dali, the Securities Settlement System (SSS) that now has as its core an operations research engine.

Dali settles securities operations that average over $250 billion daily, more than 70% of the value settled in the Mexican payments system. Thus, an amount close to the Mexican gross domestic product (GDP) is settled in five operating days. Thanks to the [linear programming] model, many transactions that would remain pending if they were processed individually are settled together, thus reducing liquidity requirements dramatically – by 52% in cash and 26% in securities. The most important benefit of the implementation of O.R. in Indeval’s SSS is the enhancement and strengthening of the Mexican financial infrastructure.

This is another terrific example of how operations research and analytics can transform enterprises, institutions, and, even, nations!

More information about the recipient of this prestigious award, for which there were 6 finalists this year, can be found here. Past Edelman Prize winners include such household name institutions as: HP, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Merrill Lynch, Motorola, and IBM.

More information about INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) can be found on its homepage.

Congratulations to Indeval and to all those who participated in this year's Edelman Prize competition!

Air Travel Disruption Twice As Long as After 9/11 and Counting

The air travel disruptions and chaos due to the ash spewing from the Eyjafjallajokull Volcano in Iceland have now lasted 6 days, twice the period of time that air travel to/from the US was shut down following 9/11. Hundreds of thousands of travelers have been affected, and even the British navy was enlisted to try to ferry some of its stranded citizens (with not complete success). Flowers and farm products are rotting in warehouses in Kenya (since these usually are distributed to Europe by air cargo flights), travelers have been camped out for days in the JFK airport as well as in affected airports in Europe. Artists and musicians cannot make their appointed events in the US. Student groups from the US have had their dream trips to Europe abandoned due to the flight cancellations, and athletes have been unable to compete in the Boston Marathon and in a world skating event in France, since they have been unable to reach their destinations. Of course, academics have also been unable to give talks abroad since their flights have been canceled, as well.

Even President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany canceled their appearances at the funeral of President Lech Kaczynski of Poland and his wife, Maria, who, along with dozens of other Polish dignitaries, perished tragically in a place crash in Russia recently. Chancellor Merkel had to take quite the circuitous route and combination of modes of transportation (even riding a bus from northern Italy to Germany) to make it back from the US because of the air travel disruptions.

The Dow Jones Newswire is reporting that Asian chip and cellphone makers could be affected if the European air space closure does not end soon. Although most electronic products from Asia are shipped by sea, smaller products such as cellphones and ships are transported by air. Samsung spokesman James Chung, was quoted as saying in the report, If this volcano problem lasts longer than expected, it would have a direct impact on Samsung's chip and cellphone exports. The crisis is costing the European economy alone billions of dollars in lost business. Airlines, already suffering from economic woes, are sustaining losses of hundreds of millions of dollars a day.

Now The New York Times is reporting that a new ash cloud is looming from the Iceland volcano whose recent eruption has affected travel and economic activity from Beijing to New York!

While this natural event has been evolving and has impacted broad swaths of the civilized world, and has resulted in major economic damage (plus personal discomfort and dislocation for many), I have been busy at work completing a paper (in which the volcanic eruption is noted). The paper, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain Age, is a synthesis of my recent work with Professor Patrick Qiang on network vulnerability and robustness and how to identify which nodes and links in network systems (including transportation ones and the Internet) are the most important. The paper also discusses synergies associated with exploiting network structure from corporate mergers and acquisitions to teaming of humanitarian organizations in the case of disasters for logistics operations. The paper is an invited one for the journal, International Transactions in Operational Research, and is the topic of the tutorial that I will be presenting at the ALIO-INFORMS International Meeting to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 6-9, 2010.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Scenes from Iceland before the Chaos Due to the Volcanic Eruption and the Air Travel Disruptions

With the volcano eruption in Iceland disrupting air travel due to ash spewing now for several days causing chaos, and major havoc for passengers, as well as for freight shipments, I thought that I would acknowledge the magical beauty of Iceland through the above photos. These were taken in the summer of 2006, when my family and I traveled there, since I was speaking at a conference. The conference was the 21st European Conference on Operational Research. Iceland is fascinating with landscapes like no other. The period that we were there was also the time for the World Cup, which made for terrific discussions with the locals. Immediately before Iceland I had spoken at a conference in Cyprus, and after Iceland, I was off to give an invited talk in Erice on the island of Sicily. My family brought me warmer clothes for Iceland, which I definitely needed.

The above photos include one of the Blue Lagoon, the sea outside the capital, Reykjavik, and even a birthday cake in the downtown of Reykjavik to celebrate the birthday of a bank there. We also went on a whale watch but after 4 hours on the rocky sea we only saw lots of open sea and puffins (but no whales). Since that trip on a boat I have not ventured out on any other.

Professor Bertsimas of MIT to Speak on Multistage Optimization Next Friday

We are delighted that Professor Bertsimas of MIT will be speaking in our Speaker Series next Friday, April 23, 2010. Complete information can be found in the announcement below, which was circulated by the officers of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter. These students are a wonderful group and I enjoy serving as the chapter's Faculty Advisor. The talk is co-hosted by the Finance group at the Isenberg School.

Professor Dimitris Bertsimas will speak on "Advances in Multistage Optimization."

Biography: Dr. Dimitris Bertsimas is the Boeing Professor of Operations Research and the Co-director of the Operations Research Center at the MIT. He received a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece in 1985, an MS in Operations Research from MIT in 1987, and a PhD in Applied Mathematics and Operations Research from MIT in 1988. Since 1988, he has been on the MIT faculty.

His research interests include: optimization, stochastic systems, data mining, and their applications. In recent years he has worked on robust optimization, health care, and finance. He has co-authored more than 110 scientific papers and he has co-authored the following books: Introduction to Linear Optimization (with J. Tsitsiklis, Athena Scientific and Dynamic Ideas, 2008), Data, Models and Decisions (with R. Freund, Dynamic Ideas, 2004), and Optimization over Integers (with R. Weismantel, Dynamic Ideas, 2005). He is currently department editor in Optimization for Management Science and former area editor of Operations Research in Financial Engineering. He has supervised 42 doctoral students and he is currently supervising 10 others.

He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has received numerous research awards including the Farkas Prize (2008), the Erlang Prize (1996), the SIAM Prize in Optimization (1996), the Bodossaki Prize (1998), and the Presidential Young Investigator Award (1991-1996).

PRESENTATION TITLE: "Advances in Multistage Optimization."

Abstract: This talk explores several recent advances in multistage stochastic and adaptive optimization. We consider a multi-stage mixed integer stochastic optimization problems and show that a static finitely adaptable solution (it reduces to a robust solution in two stages) that can be computed in polynomial time is a good approximation to the fully-adaptable multi-stage solution for the stochastic problem under fairly general assumptions on the uncertainty set and the probability distribution. In particular, we show that if the right hand side of the constraints is uncertain and belongs to a symmetric uncertainty set (such as a hypercube, ellipsoid or norm-ball) and the probability measure is also symmetric, then the cost of the optimal fixed solution to the corresponding robust problem is at most twice the optimal expected cost of the multistage-stage stochastic problem. Furthermore, we show that the bound is tight for symmetric uncertainty sets and can be arbitrarily large if the uncertainty set is not symmetric. We refer to the ratio of the optimal cost of the robust problem and the optimal cost of the two-stage stochastic problem as the stochasticity gap. We also extend the bound on the stochasticity gap for another class of uncertainty sets referred to as positive. If both the objective coefficients and right hand side are uncertain, we show that the stochasticity gap can be arbitrarily large even if the uncertainty set and the probability measure are both symmetric. However, we prove that the adaptability gap (ratio of optimal cost of the robust problem and the optimal cost of a multi-stage fully-adaptable problem) is at most four even if both the objective coefficients and the right hand side of the constraints are uncertain and belong to a symmetric uncertainty set. The bound holds for the class of positive uncertainty sets as well. Moreover, if the uncertainty set is a hypercube (special case of a symmetric set), the adaptability gap is one under an even more general model of uncertainty where the constraint coefficients are also uncertain. A class of affine policies has been extensively studied in the literature for multistage optimization. We show that affine policies are with O(m^(1/2)) from optimal in multistage problems and the bound is tight, thus giving a tight characterization of this class of tractably computed policies.
(joint work with Vineet Goyal, MIT)

Date: Friday, April 23, 2010
Time: 11:00AM - Noon
Place: Room ISOM 112

The Announcement for this talk can be found at:

INFORMS Student Chapter website:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paul Harding, UMass Amherst Grad, Receives a Pulitzer Prize for a Novel that Almost Wasn't Published

Paul Harding, who graduated UMass Amherst in 1992, received a Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, Tinkers, that took him three years to get published. It was, finally, published by a "tiny" press, the Bellevue Literary Press, which is a nonprofit publisher connected to New York University’s School of Medicine. The Boston Globe had a very special article on how Harding's book was eventually published, without much fanfare, and without any accompanying media blitzes, or use of social media. According to the Globe article, written by Geoff Edgers, and entitled, "A Tide of Affection for Prose that Nearly Went Unpublished," the success of “Tinkers’’ can be linked to a handful of people who were so moved by the richly lyrical story of an old man facing his final days that they had to tell others about it.

It is gratifying that in this day and age the beauty of the written word can still get noticed and a writer can be recognized for his work.

Why the Globe article did not acknowledge that Harding got his degree from UMass Amherst is beyond me. You can read more about him here.

Luckily, the book is going back to press, since only 15,000 copies have been printed. I look forward to getting my copy, not only for its receipt of the Pulitzer Prize, but also because of the author who never stopped believing in his work, and kept on working to get it published.

There is a nice moral here for all the researchers and writers out there!

Guggenheim Fellows Announced but Noone in OR / MS

The Guggenheim Foundation has announced the Guggenheim Fellows for 2010. There are 180 selected Fellows out of an applicant pool of 3,000. You may find the links to the press release and to the names of the recipients and their fields here. The ages of this year's Fellows range from 27 to 73, and some of the names you may recognize (or at least I did). Congratulations to them all! I wish them all the best as they pursue their fellowship projects. There is nothing like having uninterrupted time (with support) to engage in creative and scholarly activities.

I was disappointed, though, that I could not identify any Fellows this year who are in operations research or in closely allied disciplines. We have had Guggenheim Fellows in past years, including Professor Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois, who spoke in our Speaker Series on April 2, Professor Michael Ferris of the University of Wisconsin, and Professor Robert Fourer of Northwestern University. There may have been others over the years but these professional colleagues have been more recent recipients of Guggenheim Fellowships. As Professor Jacobson told me during his recent visit to UMass Amherst, in 2003, he was the only Guggenheim Fellow in Engineering (and his project was on aviation security). He also told me that all of his recommendation letter writers were former Guggenheim Fellows.

Fellows of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard should be announced soon, so, perhaps, there will be some representatives in that group from operations research and the management sciences (both Professor Elaine Chew of USC and I were Science Fellows at Radcliffe recently, but in different years -- I was in the class RI '06). By the way, three former Radcliffe Fellows are among this year's Guggenheim Fellows and they are: Caroline Elkins RI '04, Tandy Warnow RI '04, and Mary Lum RI '05.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Daffodil Lectures on Sustainability and the Environment

On Saturday, April 24, 2010, UMass Amherst and its Commonwealth College will be featuring the Daffodil Lectures to celebrate honors education at UMass Amherst.

The lectures will take place at 3PM at the Integrated Sciences Building (see notice above). Two of the speakers are well-known UMass Amherst faculty and one (Professor Taylor) is from the University of Florida. Andrew Revkin (who went to Brown University, as did I, and who also has a master's degree from Columbia) will also be speaking. Mr. Revkin was a long-time journalist for The New York Times (through 2009) and wrote the blog, Dot Earth.

In June, 2009, Andrew Revkin and I were among the featured speakers at the World Science Festival in NYC, which was an extraordinary experience.

Mr. Revkin is now a Fellow at Pace University in NYC. I am delighted that he will be coming to UMass Amherst and am very much looking forward to hearing all these speakers provide their unique insights into sustainability and the environment!

More information about this special event can be found here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Congratulations to Newly Elected 2010 Fellows of the RSAI

I was delighted and honored to have served on the Regional Science Association International (RSAI) Fellows selection committee for the past two years. This year's selection committee consisted of Professor Geoff Hewings of the University of Illinois (who was also the Chair of the committee), Professor Piet Rietveld of the Free University in Amsterdam, and yours truly.

The election results are now in and the 10 newly elected Fellows have been informed. The 2010 RSAI Fellows are:

Dr. Gerald Carlino of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Professor Henk Folmer of the University of Groningen in The Netherlands

Professor Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Economic Science, and Professor at Princeton University

Professor Richard Morrill (emeritus) of the University of Washington

Professor David Plane of the University of Arizona

Professor Diego Puga of the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Spain

Professor Aura Reggiani of the University of Bologna in Italy

Professor Michael Sonis of Israel

Professor Robert Stimson of Queensland University in Australia

Professor Erik Verhoef of the Free University in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

On behalf of the committee, I congratulate all the newly elected Fellows! More information about the RSAI and the Fellows list prior to 2010 can be found on this link. (You will have to scroll down.)

It is always an honor and privilege to serve the RSAI and a huge honor to have been elected an RSAI Fellow in 2007.

Students Sharing Their Good Job News

Yesterday, a student came to my office who will be graduating next month with a concentration in Operations Management. He wanted to tell me personally his good news (rather than just sending me an email). He had received two excellent job offers recently and had made his decision. When he told me that he will be working for a company located in the Prudential Center in Boston, I was thrilled. He was so excited about accepting this offer (and told me that he had a 30 minute time window in which to notify both companies that had extended him offers, which had been stressful). He decided to go with a privately held company, which may be more risky. His father, who is a postal worker, had told him that he regretted taking the more conservative professional route in his life and wanted his son to avail himself of exciting opportunities. My former student will have full health and dental benefits as well as partial payment towards additional academic coursework. Plus, what a location to be working in -- right in downtown, gorgeous Boston!

It was wonderful to share in this student's happiness. I look forward to meeting his parents at next month's UMass Amherst graduation. This time of the year with graduations is truly special and marks wonderful milestones in our students' (and their families) lives.

Also, another student (this one a doctoral student, whose dissertation advisor was a colleague of mine, who died this past December) wanted to share her good news with me. She received a tenure track Assistant Professorship offer from a university in the South and has accepted it. Her doctoral concentration is in Management Science and she will be teaching quantitative methods at the university's business school. She said: I feel extremely lucky as well as grateful for the training I received from our doctoral program. I want to personally thank you, for being such a good teacher and inspiring professor. I hope in the years to follow, I can represent our school and our program well.

It is very gratifying to have students excel both in the classroom and on the job market and to have them take the time to acknowledge their professor. Students that have the work ethic (and wonderful manners) will do well. I am very proud of them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

AAUP Study -- Lowest Faculty Salary Increases in 50 Years

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has released its annual study of faculty salaries and the news is bleak. The study reports that the average increase in faculty salaries is the lowest in 50 years! Tamar Lewin reports on this study in The New York Times. The AAUP's director of research and policy, John Curtis, is quoted in the article as saying: A lot of faculty are losing ground, and the data probably underestimate the seriousness of the problems with faculty salary this year, because we’re only looking at full-time faculty and, as we’ve seen for several years, there’s an increasing number of part-time faculty, who are not included. Also, the survey doesn’t capture the effect of the unpaid furloughs a lot of faculty were forced to take this year, because the numbers we have are the base salaries agreed on at the beginning of the year, not the actual payroll results.

If you click on this link, you can actually search the data for individual institutions. The data are very revealing and provide deeper insights above and beyond that of the dismal "average" increases. For example, one can search and find disparities by gender within an institution in terms of salaries and by faculty rank across different institutions.

Speaking from my own personal experiences, a few years back my academic department had its own secretary. Now the secretary serves not only my department but another department as well as our doctoral program. So, in effect, we now have only 1/3 of the secretarial support that we had before. Plus, faculty now type their own papers and, typically, type letters of recommendation for students, as well as numerous other types of service correspondence themselves. We have even had to do most of the logistical work in bringing faculty candidates for jobs to campus ourselves.

Faculty are being asked to do more and more with less and less. When the infrastructure for education in a nation does not receive adequate support, what will the future hold?!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lectures on Fragile Networks

Below you will find the links to the lectures that comprised the invited tutorial on Fragile Networks that I presented with Dr. Qiang "Patrick" Qiang at the 2010 International Conference on Social Computing, Behavioral Modeling, & Prediction (SBP10), which took place at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, in March, 2010. The tutorial was delivered in three modules/lectures:

Module I - Module II - Module III

These lectures are in pdf format and should be of interest to anyone concerned about disaster and emergency preparedness as well as network vulnerability ranging from applications to transportation networks and the Internet to electric power grids and supply chains as well as financial networks. This tutorial is based on our book, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, published by John Wiley & Sons.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Alumni Panel on Career Preparation and a Former Student Who has Excelled

I was so pleased today to welcome back to campus one of my former students, who majored in Operations Management at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst and who graduated in 2003. Ms. Christina Calvaneso is now Manager - Strategy & Operations, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and is based in New York City. She was back at the Isenberg School of Management to take part in a panel, Looking Forward: Views of Our Graduates on Career Preparation, at our Open House. Christina was a 2002-2003 Undergraduate Center Associate of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks and was a recipient of a 21st Century Leader Award at the May 2003 Commencement, an award that I nominated her for. There are photos of her commencement and activities with the Center on the 2000-2005 Center Photos Page (scroll down to the 2002-2003 photos).

Christina began her professional career at GE and has been with Deloitte Consulting for the past three years. It was terrific to see her and to "catch up." I asked her what she appreciated most about the education that she received at the Isenberg School and what she considered the most important skill sets that she now uses as a manager at a top consulting company. She told me that she solves problems every day and that the analytical skills and tools that she gained as an Operations Management major have been invaluable. She also spoke about the importance of strategy and "people" skills and in building relationships based on trust.

She has been very successful and, as a former professor of hers, I am extremely proud of her. It is always extra special to see our successful alums come back to campus and to share their pearls of wisdom with the next generation of students.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Send Us Your Professors

Send In the Professors is the title of an OpEd piece in The New York Times, written by Professor Altaii, who is an Engineering Professor at James Madison University. Professor Altaii in his very moving article on the devastation of higher education in Iraq quotes his mother: “Education is the most important thing in the world,” she said. “Once you realize that, there is nothing you cannot accomplish.” An Iraqi professor is quoted in the article as saying: “Occupy us with your knowledge and advances, not with your guns."

In his article, Professor Altaii notes that the US has several educational initiatives in Iraq, including the new Fulbright Visiting Scholarship Program for Iraq that will enable more than two dozen Iraqi professors to spend time at US universities. As a former Fulbrighter (two times) I can attest to the unique nature of this program in helping to build international friendships, collaborations, enriching educational experiences, and long-lasting special memories.

I would also like to highlight several other very special educational initiatives and programs that are making great impacts on parts of our globe where professors are being sent from the US to Afghanistan; to Kenya, and to India. Many of these intitiatives are due to the professors themselves and the partnerships that they have established.

For example, my university, UMass Amherst, has been involved in sending teachers to Afghanistan as this nice writeup in The Boston Globe reports. Because of this initiative, last month, 41 students earned advanced degrees in education, nearly doubling the number of master’s-level faculty at education colleges in Afghanistan. A colleague of my husband's at the University of Hartford, Professor Keshawarz, who was born in Afghanistan, and who has been involved in rebuilding the engineering education infrastructure there states that: "To have an impact, the international community must establish priorities with an eye toward the long term. Providing food is not enough. Aid programs must help rebuild agricultural capacity so that Afghans can feed themselves. Also, in addition to building roads, bridges, and hospitals, we must establish the educational infrastructure needed to train engineers and doctors." More about his brave and important educational activities can be found here.

Another group, representing the University of Hartford, Brown University (from which I have 4 degrees), and the University of Rhode Island, last summer traveled to Kenya. The delegation included the Provost of the University of Hartford, Dr. Lynn Pasquerella (who is the incoming, new President of Mount Holyoke College, and a Brown PhD), who spearheaded this initiative. This group, which also included students, is utilizing a variety of disciplines – engineering, art, and sociology – to help residents address such issues as water purification, sustainable agriculture, and women’s safety.

In addition, Professor David Pines, also a colleague of my husband's, who is involved in the above Kenya project, has been leading groups of students to India, through the Engineering Without Borders program, to assist in the building of water wells and the provision of clean water.

Through international, face to face, education, great, positive impacts can be achieved. Indeed, even in war-torn and strife-stricken regions, professors can serve as emissaries for knowledge and peace. Respect for education knows no boundaries.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tips on Organizing a Successful Speaker Series

As the Spring 2010 semester is drawing to a close, I thought that it would be helpful and worthwhile to offer some tips on organizing a Speaker Series. I have been the Faculty Advisor to the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter since the Fall of 2004, since I decided not to leave UMass Amherst, despite a marvelous offer. I decided to stay, partially, due to the students that I had at that time, the challenges and opportunities that I still wanted to avail myself of in New England and the northeast, and the fact that Massachusetts is an intellectual mecca in the US. When I accepted the counteroffer that UMass gave, I also felt that I should seriously look around and see how I could enhance the educational mission at the Isenberg School.

I decided that what was missing and what could both enliven and enhance the visibility and reputation of the programs that I was associated with, from our undergraduate Operations Management program to the doctoral program in Management Science, was a Speaker Series. This initiative became part of the activities of the UMass Amherst INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Student Chapter, which was reestablished in the Fall of 2004 after a very long period of dormancy.

To-date, our Speaker Series has hosted twelve semesters of speakers. The talks are open to the public and attract an audience from throughout the UMass Amherst campus and beyond. Each semester's full roster of talks is posted weeks in advance and advertised heavily. The chapter officers disseminate announcements on campus, and send out two messages announcing each speaker through two different e-lists. The invitations to potential speakers are sent out months in advance and, typically, come from me, and are copied to the cognizant chapter officer. I also work with a chapter officer who helps in the logistics of making the travel arrangements for each speaker in order to make for a fluid and comfortable visit.

The students follow up with official thank you letters, copies of which (we check this out with the speaker) also go to the speaker's supervisors (letters have even been sent to the President of MIT from our chapter).

These seminars take place on scheduled Fridays at 11AM in the Isenberg School of Management, with lunch following. This kind of schedule has worked very well for us and our speakers and creates a relaxing environment in which to discuss the topics presented. We have had the privilege of having experts speak on transportation problems, humanitarian logistics, food safety, the smart grid, on healthcare, on supply chain disruptions, on employment in green jobs, on research capacity building, and numerous other timely and relevant topics. Some of our speakers were from academia; others from industry, and several are best-selling authors. We attempt to provide a diversity of topics.

We do not require that students attend these talks but those who see the value of them rarely miss one. No speaker has ever canceled on us.

The Female Science Professor, who is an anonymous blogger (and about whose blog I have written about in my blog and I have directly communicated with her as well), writes a monthly column in The Chronicle of Higher Education. This month's article by her, coincidentally, is on departmental seminar series and you can read it here. In the article, she focuses on answering specific questions regarding departmental speaker series. The one that I am involved in is much broader, but she does make many relevant points. Specifically, she says that: many departments believe it is money well spent because of the educational benefits and the positive impact on the department's visibility. Moreover, she states that: In my experience, organized and motivated people are the best organizers—no matter their academic position.

As for our Speaker Series, I have provided the funding for it over 12 semesters, and have even used thousands of dollars from a research award that I received to jump start it. My academic department funds the lunches and every year or so we get additional support for 1 speaker from the INFORMS Speaker Program. I have missed only a handful of the presentations in the past 6 years, even while I was on sabbatical as a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

We still have two more speakers in our series this term and are delighted that Professor Bertsimas of the Sloan School at MIT, who is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, will be speaking on April 23. We conclude this year's talks with the lecture of Professor Gumus, of McGill University in Canada, on April 30.

However, all good things must, eventually, come to an end. After this semester, I will no longer be able to fund this Speaker Series and to devote weeks every year to its success. This series has helped the chapter garner three national awards from INFORMS and its various officers (two so far) the Judith Liebman award. We will see whether the institution provides financial support as well as whether another "leader" will step forward to continue this intellectually engaging and esprit de corps building activity that has immeasurably enriched the educational experiences on our campus.

As for tips on running a student chapter
, please click here. The chapter best practices guide on that link was co-authored by my former doctoral student, Dr. Tina Wakolbinger, who was the first President of our Chapter in 2004-2005 and who received the Judith Liebman award for her outstanding service of the chapter. It contains additional tips on hosting a Speaker Series.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Special Messages from Students (Unsolicited and When I Needed a Boost Badly)

In this blog, I often write about what a professor does on a given day and, despite regular teaching schedules, no two days are ever alike. Students are often told that the times that they are in college or in grad school are truly some of the best times of their lives and, sooner or later, they do come to this realization. Although there are numerous "bumps in the road" and the challenges of being a professor never stop, with the heavy loads of research, teaching, and onerous service responsibilities, every once in a while, one receives messages and feedback that make (some of) the workload worthwhile.

Just this week, during a period during which I was feeling especially "bounced around," I received messages from three former students, all of whom had taken my Transportation & Logistics undergraduate course at the Isenberg School. Two of these students will be graduating in May and one, a female, had graduated several years ago and has a marvelous position with a major consulting company. All majored in Operations Management.

One message from a former student said: I am graduating SOM in May. I have never enjoyed course material more so than that offered in your FINOP 341 class. I took it last semester and if you remember, I was the one who tried applying your course material to the transportation problem presented by ... I really, really want to get into the logistics field of business. In four years of class at Isenberg, and numerous internships and co-op opportunities, I have never really found any topic that satisfies me more than logistics and using mathematical algorithm(s) and applications to solve real life problems. The ability to enumerate a practical, real life problem and solve it using logic is among the most satisfying experiences I have encountered...

Another student, whom I nominated for a leadership award, and who will be receiving it soon at a reception at UMass Amherst, which his parents will be attending as well, and so will I, wrote: Great -- I tell my parents a lot about you so I look forward to introducing you! ... I really appreciate your help; it's great to be part of a large University and having someone who cares about you personally really making the large campus experience much easier and more intimate... I wont forget the people who have helped me so much especially as you have done!

Finally, a former student, who graduated a few years ago and has had a very successful professional career, wrote:

Hi Professor Nagurney,

How are you?

Just wanted to let you know that I will be in Amherst this weekend, probably heading up on Friday. I'll be speaking on an Alumni panel for Open House weekend. Let me know if you'll be around on Friday. I would love to stop by and say hello!

To the students who wrote the above messages, I give a BIG Thank You!

Some of my course lecture notes are available here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Crisis Mapping, Crowd Sourcing, Ushahidi and Helping Haiti

Crisis mapping has emerged as a powerful social networking tool that helps both emergency assistance providers as well as those affected by disasters. Ushahidi is one such platform, whose design was led by the Kenyan, David Kobia. Its growing applications have attracted worldwide attention. It takes advantage of crowd sourcing in obtaining data in crisis and disaster situations.

Most recently, a group at the Tufts University Flectcher School of Law and Diplomacy, led by Patrick Meier, developed Ushahidi-Haiti to assist rescue and recovery efforts post the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12, 2010. Hundreds of students at the Fletcher School assisted in this project at its peak.

The Boston Globe has a wonderful article on the Ushahidi-Haiti initiative, led by Meier.

According to the Globe article: Aid workers quickly saw the value of Meier’s creation. “This really helped us get the aid exactly where it was needed,’’ said Craig Clarke, a civilian intelligence analyst for the Marine Corps. “What they did was beyond valuable. It was gold.’’

According to Clarke: he had no doubt that the crisis-mapping operation helped to save lives and get crucial aid to thousands of Haitians in the weeks after the quake.

Ushahidi (which means "testimony" in Swahili) uses GPS data so that crisis managers and humanitarian organizations are able to locate who needs what during and post a crisis.

Now Ushahidi-Haiti is being used for the recovery and rebuilding of Haiti. I am certain that it will become an essential tool for disaster relief and humanitarian operations around the world.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Congrats to the Underdogs, Butler University, on Making the NCAA Final Two!

**** An update to this post *****

Last night, Butler University's men's basketball team was beaten by Duke University's team at a score of 61-59. Congratulations to both these fantastic teams! You made this year's N.C.A.A. men's basketball tournament extra special.


Congratulations to the Butler University men's basketball team for winning their Final Four matchup game yesterday against Michigan State with a score of 52-50! This is the first time in decades that a 5th seeded team has reached the final game, which will be played against Duke University tomorrow night. Duke beat West Virginia last night.

The mascot of the Butler University team is a bulldog and, last night, if you watched the game, you couldn't miss him, dressed up in his dark blue and white Butler coat. He seemed to be enjoying the game and subsequent victory in Indianapolis as much as all the Butler University fans with the game taking place in their home city.

I like it when an "underdog" achieves what was made possible through dreams, a lot of hard work, and a terrific young coach, Brad Stevens, who made his players believe that they would reach this final game.

The President of Butler University is Dr. Bobby Fong, who is the first-born child of Chinese immigrants. He did not learn how to speak English until he was in kindergarten (this was my situation as well, since my family immigrated from Canada, and only Ukrainian was spoken in our home except when my parents did not want the children to understand what they were saying, they would revert to speaking in German). Bobby Fong went on to major in English at Harvard and then received his PhD from UCLA, also in English. Dr. Fong has been the President of Butler University since 2001. The New York Times had a wonderful feature article on Dr. Bobby Fong, which also related how he learned math from baseball statistics and learned about the US by reading about baseball.

Kudos to Butler University, a liberal arts university, with fewer than 5,000 students! I wish their men's basketball team, its students, and its President all the very best! They demonstrate what is special about sports, good sportsmanship, and the terrific possibilities!

Friday, April 2, 2010

From the NCAA Tournament to Pediatric Vaccines

Today we were treated to a brilliant talk by a star operations researcher, Dr. Sheldon Jacobson, of the Computer Science Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana. Professor Jacobson's talk was in our Spring 2010 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Sciences.

His presentation, An Analysis of Pediatric Vaccine Pricing and Stockpiling Issues, was simply outstanding! He recently returned from a trip that took him to Australia and Japan to investigate different vaccine issues in those countries. He discussed how integer programming can be used in the pricing of vaccines with real-world data and how he used stochastic programming to formulate and answer questions regarding the stockpiling of vaccines. He informed the audience of the challenges that vaccine manufacturers are faced with. He told the students to be willing to do "work for free" because sometimes great opportunities arise from doing research that helps others (as he had experienced with a pharmaceutical company and CDC project).

Today, as well, Dr. Jacobson was one of nine experts whose commentary appeared in The New York Times "Room for Debate" on the theme, How to Improve the N.C.A.A. Tournament! It was very cool to see Dr. Jacobson on the same short list as the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame member, Rebecca Lobo Rishin, and the former Temple University men's basketball coach, John Chaney, among other sports experts! Actually, they are lucky to be on the same short list as Professor Jacobson!

Now you might be thinking how can someone be an expert on healthcare topics such as vaccine production, stockpiling, and pricing, coupled with the analysis of sports tournament outcomes?! Dr. Jacobson is also an expert on aviation security and was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2003. His degrees are in mathematics and operations research (with a PhD in the latter from Cornell University). Having critical analytical skills, a strong math background, and the ability to develop creative and insightful mathematical models, with important policy implications, can lead you to study and address numerous important problems.

Dr. Jacobson is a Renaissance man and we are so grateful that he took the time out of his extremely busy professional schedule to come and speak at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

We also thank Barry List of INFORMS and its Speaker Program for co-sponsoring Dr. Jacobson's wonderful talk today!

Our Fractured Roads and Pollution -- When is a Network Robust?

As one drives over the roads in Amherst and surrounding towns in western Massachusetts, one can't fail to painfully feel the bumps and potholes, and hope that one reaches one's destination without getting whiplash and one's car is still functional. It is embarrassing that in the "richest" country in the world that we do not maintain our infrastructure appropriately. Not only does this lack of maintenance result in costly repairs on the backs of citizens, but it also results in increased pollution emissions.

In a study, just published and entitled, Environmental Impact Assessment of Transportation Networks with Degradable Links in an Era of Climate Change that I wrote with Drs. Qiang Qiang and Ladimer Nagurney, in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation 4 (2010) pp 154-171, we were able to capture the effects of transportation network infrastructure degradation on the pollution emitted in the form of carbon emissions. In addition, we constructed link importance indicators that enable the ranking of links (under either user-optimizing (U-O) selfish behavior or system-optimizing (S-O) unselfish behavior) in terms of the impacts of their degradation and even their ultimate destruction. As is evident from recent disasters such as earthquakes and floods, such quantitative measures are more than timely and relevant.

With this paper, we hope to promote a new research agenda into the determination of quantitative measures associated with transportation networks, environmental vulnerability and robustness analysis, and climate change. Moreover, planners and policy makers need to be able to rigorously assess which links (and nodes) in transportation networks from congested urban ones to freight ones should be carefully maintained and invested in. Otherwise, we will be living and trying to be mobile in a Fractured Fairy Tale.