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Russia really owned this podium

Back in 2010, Canada’s  goal was to “own the podium” at the Winter Olympics.  What “owning the podium” meant was open to interpretation.  Some argued for “most gold medals”; others opted for “most overall medals”; still others had point values for the different types of medals.  Some argued for normalizing by population (which was won, for London 2012, by Grenada with one medal and a population of 110,821, trailed by Jamaica, Trididad and Tobago, New Zealand, Bahamas, and Slovenia) (*). Others think the whole issue is silly: people win medals, not countries.  But still, each Olympics, the question remains: Who won the podium?

I suggested dividing the podium by the fraction of “reasonable” medal weightings that lead to a win by each country.  A “reasonable” weighting is one that treats gold at least as valuable as silver; silver at least as valuable as gold; no medal as a negative weight; and with total weighting of 1.  By that measure, in Vancouver 2010, the US won with 54.75% of the podium compared to Canada’s 45.25%.  In London 2012, the US owned the entire podium.

The Sochi Olympics have just finished and the result is…. Russia in a rout.  Here are the medal standings:

 

2014medals

Since Russia has more Gold medals than anyone else plus more “Gold+Silver” plus more overall, there are no reasonable weightings for gold, silver, and bronze that result in anyone but the Russian Federation from winning.

Nonetheless, I think Canada will take golds in Mens and Womens hockey along with Mens and Womens curling (among others) and declare this a successful Olympics.

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(*)  I note that some sports limit the number of entries by each country, giving a disadvantage to larger countries for population based rankings (there is only one US hockey team, for instance but Lithuania also gets just one).

Own a Ton of Operations Research History

dantzigOr perhaps own two tons of Operations Research History (I am not sure how much 70 bankers boxes weigh)!  And not just any history:  this is the mathematics library of George B. Dantzig, available by “private treaty” (i.e.: there is a price;  if you pay it, you get the whole library) from PBA Galleries.  I suspect everyone who reads this blog knows who Dantzig was, but just in case: he is the Father of Operations Research.  His fundamental work on the simplex algorithm for linear programming and other work should have won the Economics Nobel Prize. He had a very long (spanning the 1940s practically to the end of his life in 2005) , and very influential, career.  You can read more about him in this article by Cottle, Johnson, and Wets.

At the auction site, there are also some reminiscences from his daughter Jessica Dantzig Klass.   She talks about some of the books in the library:

I found two copies of Beitraege zur Theorie der linearen Ungleichungen, Theodore S. Motzkin’s dissertation, translated “Contributions to the Theory of Linear Inequalities.” This work anticipated the development of linear programming by fourteen years and is probably the reason Motzkin is known as the “grandfather of linear programming”. A close family friend, Ted, as he was known, was a gentle, mild mannered man, with intense eyes, and a sweet smile, and he “lived” mathematics, even keeping small pieces of paper by his bed, so that when he had an idea at night he would be able to write it down. His dissertation is interesting from an historic perspective; bridging the gap between Fourier and my father’s work. Ted, a student at the University of Basel in Switzerland, was awarded his Ph.D. in 1933, but it was not published until 1936 in Jerusalem. One can trace the mathematical lineage of Motzkin’s advisor, Alexander Ostrowski, back to Gauss. And until his untimely death in 1970, Motzkin was my husband’s Ph.D. advisor at UCLA.

I don’t know how expensive the collection is (and I certainly don’t have room for 70 bankers boxes of material), but it would be great if an organization (INFORMS, are you listening) or a historically-minding researcher picked this up.  I suspect in the future, there will be far fewer libraries from great researchers.  I know that my own “library” is really nothing more than the hard drive on whatever computer I am using.

Scheduling Major League Baseball

ESPN has a new “30 for 30″ short video on the scheduling of Major League Baseball.  In the video, they outline the story of Henry and Holly Stephenson who provided Major League Baseball with its schedule for twenty-five years.  They were eventually supplanted by some people with a computer program.  Those people are Doug Bureman, George Nemhauser, Kelly Easton, and me, doing business as “Sports Scheduling Group”.

It was fascinating to hear the story of the Stephensons, and a little heart-breaking to hear them finally losing a job they obviously loved.  I have never met Henry or Holly, and they have no reason to think good thoughts about me.  But I think an awful lot of them.

I began working on baseball scheduling in 1994, and it took ten years of hard work (first Doug and me, then the four of us) before MLB selected our schedule for play.

Why were we successful in 2004 and not in 1994? At the core, technology changed. The computers we used in 2004 were 1000 times faster than the 1994 computers. And the underlying optimization software was at least 1000 times faster. So technology made us at least one million times faster. And that made all the difference. Since then, computers and algorithms have made us 1000 times faster still.  And, in addition, we learned quite a bit about how to best do complicated sports scheduling problems.

Another way to see this is that in 1994, despite my doctorate and my experience and my techniques, I was 1 millionth of the scheduler that the Stephensons were. Henry and Holly Stephenson are truly scheduling savants, able to see patterns that no other human can see. But eventually technological advances overtook them.

More recently, those advances allowed us to provide the 2013 schedule with interleague play in every time slot (due to the odd number of teams in each league), something not attempted before. I am confident that we are now uniquely placed to provide such intricate schedules. But that does not take away from my admiration of the Stephensons: I am in awe of what they could do.

 

 

In Praise of Poster Sessions

At the recent INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) conference, I was a judge for one of the days for the poster session (or “Interactive Session”, as INFORMS prefers).  As a judge, I first spent five minutes each with three participants.  After making recommendations for finalists, the entire judging panel (a dozen or so people) then spent five minutes each with five finalists.  We then crowned a third place, second place, and first place winner.

A week after the conference, I can describe in detail what each of those eight researchers (all students, I believe) did.  I can give you the strengths and weaknesses of the research of the eight posters, and can use them as examples of work that goes on in our field.  If I were hiring, I know at least two or three people I would love to have at the Tepper School.   All this with forty minutes of engagement.

Contrast this with the presentations I saw in the “regular” sessions.  I attended four sessions (not including my own, nor tutorials or plenaries).  Each was ninety minutes long, so that makes six hours.  During that time, I saw about 14 presentations.  I remember about half of them.  I didn’t really get a chance to ask questions, and I tuned out of some once I really understood what they were going to inflict on me.  Again, there were at least two or three people I would love to have at the Tepper School, some of whom are already here (and I didn’t tune out of those!), but, overall, the talks I saw did not turn out to be as memorable as the interactive presentations.

Worse, consider the plight of a student I know.  He was to give a talk in a “regular” session.  There were two people in the room other than the speakers.  Two speakers did not show.  The other talks were on nothing at all similar to what the student had done, so everyone in the room spent his talk reading the bulletin wondering where they would rather be.  No questions, no interaction.

Or another student who ended up with just ten minutes to present because the session chair allowed the other, more senior, people to run over.  Or another student I saw who had a delightful talk curtailed by technological and other issues.  A PhD comic seems particularly appropriate here:

PhD Comics take on Conference presentations

So, I guess my question is: “Why don’t we have more poster interactive sessions?”  Or even all poster sessions, except for the tutorials and plenary presentations.  It is good for the presenter and good for the participants!

Note added:  This also reminds me of having a five minute video as an adjunct to a paper, as this one sent to me by Les Servi.  It is a great way to determine if a paper is worth further study.

INFORMS 2013: “Dessert? I like Dessert!”

I have posted to the INFORMS Conference blog again, this time on “Dessert? I like Dessert!”.

INFORMS Conferences and Reading the Tags

It is time again for the highlight of the operations research calendar: the INFORMS Annual meeting.  As always, I will be blogging at the INFORMS site, with a copy here.  But really: check out the INFORMS blogging site.  Lots of bloggers and lots of activity.

Here is my first entry this year:

The INFORMS 2013 conference is ready to start.  I think I was the second registrant to check in, since the doctoral colloquium is starting early tomorrow.

As you look at people’s name badges, you may be struck by the tags associated with them.  For instance, I ended up with seven tags in my registration envelope, which I think is the largest number of tags I have gotten since I was on the board.  Those tags identify participants by some of the special things they are doing at the conference.

informs2013 tagsGoing down though my tags, they run as follows:

  1. Colloquium.  I am speaking at the student colloquium about how to handle the service issues in the profession.  For instance, if you do too much service, you might end up with seven tags in your registration envelope.
  2. Coffee with a Member.  This is a great program that matches up first-time attendees with more seasoned people.  After 4PM, this turns out to be “Beer with a Member”.
  3. I’m going Green.  I chose not to get a printed program (which weighs about 2 pounds).  I am using a really cool app instead.
  4. I tweet @informs2013.  I don’t always tweet, but when I do, I tweet @informs2013.  Like all the cool kids
  5. Blogger.  Like, this thing.
  6. 25+ Year Member.  I’m old…
  7. Fellow.  … who did a few things in order to get that nice yellow tag (which I am unironically proud of).

The most important thing to know about those tags is the following

If you see someone with three or more tags, you can ask them anything.

Anyone with multiple tags is truly (and unironically) part of the community.  So if you are lost, or confused, or just looking for someone to talk to, grab someone with multiple tags.  They are committed to INFORMS.  If you have a question, they will find someone who will have the answer.  If you are lost, they will work to get you found.  And if you don’t have someone else to talk to, they will be happy to talk to you (ask them about their tags).  They will talk about INFORMS and the field so much that you will likely need to find another three-tag member for rescue.  Because they believe in the field and in INFORMS.   And they want you to have a successful conference.

As for seven-tag members, approach them with caution.  They are so into the organization that you might end up on a committee!

I am looking forward to the conference, and hope to make a few more friends in the next few days.

 

The Pirates have not clinched a non-losing season

nl_standingsThe newspapers here are full of news that the Pittsburgh Pirates (Major League Baseball) have broken a twenty-year reign of mediocrity by guaranteeing a non-losing season.  Since they have won 81 games in a 162 game season, that seems self-evident.

But those of us in operations research know enough to check out the details before leaping to a conclusion.  Consider the following situation:

1) The Pirates proceed to lose all their remaining games to end up at 81-81.

2) St. Louis and Cincinnati pass the Pirates, to win the division and the first wild-card.

3) Arizona ends up at 81-81 also, with all other teams (except division winners) with a worse record.

The Pirates would then play Arizona a one-game tie-breaker to determine who the second wild-card team is.  Suppose (horrors!) they lose again.  Where does the game count?  It turns out that tie-breaking  games count in the regular season records, as Wikipedia confirms.  So Pittsburgh would end up 81-82, for another losing season.  Note that it has to be a one-game tie-breaker:  subsequent playoff games are not included in regular season records.

I don’t think anyone is losing sleep over this possibility.  But a correct computer system for determining clinching of non-losing seasons would have to take this into account.   Having worked on such a system for another professional sports league, I can assure you that all the difficulty is in these near (but not quite) impossible events.  99% of the code handles cases that have never occurred, and are unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

Note that if Pittsburgh wins one more game, then they are guaranteed a winning season:  a tie-breaker can’t turn their record into a losing (or .500) season.

Update 9/9: With the win tonight, the Pirates guarantee a winning season.  Now the streak is truly broken!  Go Bucs!

 

COIN-OR needs a new web site

A long, long time ago (1995 to be exact), INFORMS asked for volunteers to put together its website.  While I was hesitant (I was an untenured assistant professor), I decided to apply, and I became the editor of INFORMS Online.  There are few decisions that had such wide-ranging, and unforeseen, effects.  I met people (like Brian Borchers, Matt Saltzman, and many others) who have been good friends and colleagues to this day.  I worked with an amazing staff, many of whom (like my good friend Mary Magrogan) are still with INFORMS.  And I learned a lot about how to distribute information to a large, distributed organization (getting significant information from the members would have to wait for later generations of web masters).  Eventually I became President of INFORMS (for the year 2002) and Vice President for IFORS.  And, it turned out, I eventually even got tenure.  There are few decisions I have made that have changed my life so much.

One of my favorite organizations, COIN-OR,  is looking for someone to help with their website issues.   COIN-OR is a major force for open source resources in operations research. While I won’t guarantee it will change your life, I highly recommend getting involved in organizations like COIN-OR:  you meet people, you learn a lot, and somehow, life seems to work out better when you are involved in things.  Here is the announcement:

General overview:

The COIN-OR foundation is a non-profit foundation that hosts 50+ open source software projects. Currently, the Web site is hand-crafted HTML (www.coin-or.org). Pages are hosted in subversion and checked out from there. Pages describing individual project are rendered from XML (see, e.g.,https://projects.coin-or.org/SYMPHONY/browser/conf/projDesc.xml and http://www.coin-or.org/projects/SYMPHONY.xml). Project source code is hosted in subversion with TRAC providing an integrated wiki and bug tracking (see, e.g., https://projects.coin-or.org/SYMPHONY). A mailman list serve is used for support, user feedback, etc. (see http://list.coin-or.org/mailman/listinfo/). Individual projects get Web space in the form of pages checked our from subversion (see, e.g., https://projects.coin-or.org/SYMPHONY/browser/html and http://www.coin-or.org/SYMPHONY/index.htm)

The general idea is to give the site a complete makeover to give it a more modern look and feel, social media integration, Web *.* capabilities. We implemented a test site in WordPress to play with ideas.

http://wptest.coin-or.org/

Specific design goals:

1. Move site to a CMS that will allow easier maintenance, ability to grant edit permission to individual pages, ability to edit in the browser, etc. Currently, WordPress seems to do all we need and we are familiar with WordPress. We’re open to other suggestions, however.
2. With the move to CMS, upgrade look and feel of the site and add capabilities, as follows:
– Implement forums for support and user feedback. Should include the ability to have general high-level forums, as well as individual forums for each project. Users should be able to create accounts on the site and post to the forums. Forums should be moderated (or at least should have the ability to moderate.
– Upgrade TRAC to the latest version, integrate support for git, and integrate the look and feel into the overall Web site.
– Implement single sign-on for the Web site (forums), the TRAC site, subversion. and git (so far, the best solution for this seems to be OpenID). Support ability to require e-mail address for valid registration and to capture basic demographic information (again, OpenID seems the easiest option).
– Implement download form that asks downloaders to fill out a form with basic demographic information (possibly requiring some sort of account creation).
– Support the ability to auto-generate project information pages from XML templates checked out from the subversion repos of individual projects, as with current site.
– Support blog(s) for posting news items. Each project should have its own blog, but these individual blogs could be hosted on the sites of individual projects (see 3 below).
– Support an events calendar.
3. Support the creation of individual sites for each project using the same CMS (WordPress allows this).
4. Ideally, create a separate site for the foundation itself.


Dr. Ted Ralphs
Associate Professor, Lehigh University
(610) 628-1280
ted ‘at’ lehigh ‘dot’ edu
coral.ie.lehigh.edu/~ted

If you are interested, contact Ted:  the COIN-OR group is a great group to work with!

Entrepreneurial Operations Research Jobs

Since Operations Research is a very practical field, it is not surprising that companies often spin out of universities led by OR professors.  SmartOps was started by my colleague Sridhar Tayur, LogicTools was founded by MIT Professor David Simchi-Levi, former INFORMS President Don Kleinmuntz founded Strata Decision Technologies, and on and on.  Entrepreneurship and Operations Research mix very well.

One new aspect (at least new to me!) is getting National Science Foundation support to create these firms.  Tuomas Sandholm of Carnegie Mellon has received such a grant and is creating a firm Optimized Markets.  He is looking for people to join this startup.  At least for some of the jobs, the structure of the position is unusual:  an initial year is spent as a postdoc at CMU, followed (if everything works out) with a position at Optimized Markets.  Some job announcements follow.

These look like interesting jobs for the right type of person.

 

ENTREPRENEURIAL R&D POSITION AT CARNEGIE MELLLON UNIVERSITY AND OPTIMIZED MARKETS, INC.

The US administration is appropriately interested in facilitating the transfer of university-generated technologies into the commercial world.  The National Science Foundation has a new selective program for facilitating this.  Prof. Sandholm received a grant from that program to commercialize some of the technology and know-how being developed in his Electronic Marketplaces laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.  He founded a startup company, Optimized Markets, Inc., for the commercialization.

The position is first for a year as a Research Associate or Postdoctoral Fellow at Carnegie Mellon University.  After that, conditional on good progress, the person will transition into a position of significance at Optimized Markets, Inc.

The company has ambitious plans in many application areas in the intersection of electronic marketplaces and integer programming.  The particular product that the person will be working on in the first couple of years is in advertising campaign sales and scheduling for TV, Internet display, video, mobile, and cross-media advertising.

This is a truly exceptional opportunity for someone who wants to change the world with technology.

The position is open immediately.

Requirements:

- Strong knowledge of integer programming
- Strong skills and desire to build significant production-quality optimization software that is fast in practice
- PhD in operations research, computer science, or equivalent field
- Strong command of C++
- Desire and ability to work hard in a fast-moving environment
- Desire to change the world with technology

Desired additional qualities (not required):

- Experience in developing commercial software
- Command of Ruby on Rails and Java
- Experience in Software-as-a-Service/cloud
- Good written and oral communication skills
- Ability to work independently and as part of a team

The position offers the following:

- Opportunity to learn from, and work with, the world’s leading experts in integer programming and market design
- Opportunity to work on highly novel approaches to integer programming and tree search
- Opportunity to learn from a serial entrepreneur and a mentor network how to become a successful entrepreneur
- Opportunity to work on exciting new real-world problems
- Opportunity to have your work fielded and change the world
- Opportunity to publish
- Salary plus stock options in a promising startup
- Opportunity to join an exciting new startup in a position of significance

Candidates should email a letter of application, CV, and a list of references to:
Tuomas Sandholm
Professor
Computer Science Department
Carnegie Mellon University
sandholm AT cs DOT cmu DOT edu
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~sandholm/

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OPTIMIZATION SOFTWARE ENGINEER POSITION AT OPTIMIZED MARKETS, INC. / CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY

The US administration is appropriately interested in facilitating the transfer of university-generated technologies into the commercial world.  The National Science Foundation has a new selective program for facilitating this.  Prof. Sandholm received a grant from that program to commercialize some of the technology and know-how being developed in his Electronic Marketplaces laboratory at Carnegie Mellon University.  He founded a startup company, Optimized Markets, Inc., for the commercialization. The company has ambitious plans in many application areas in the intersection of electronic marketplaces and integer programming.

The first product for the Optimization Software Engineer between Optimized Markets, Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University to work on is in advertising campaign sales and scheduling for TV, Internet display, video, mobile, and cross-media advertising.

This is a truly exceptional opportunity for someone who wants to change the world with technology.

The position is open immediately.

Requirements:

- Strong skills and desire to build significant production-quality optimization software that is fast in practice
- Strong command of C++
- BS or MS in computer science, operations research, or equivalent field
- Desire and ability to work hard in a fast-moving environment
- Desire to change the world with technology

Desired additional qualities:

- Strong knowledge of integer programming / tree search
- Experience in developing commercial software
- Command of Ruby on Rails and Java
- Experience in Software-as-a-Service/cloud
- Good written and oral communication skills
- Ability to work independently and as part of a team

The position offers the following:

- Opportunity to learn from, and work with, the world’s leading experts in integer programming and market design
- Opportunity to work on highly novel approaches to integer programming and tree search
- Opportunity to learn from a serial entrepreneur and a mentor network how to become a successful entrepreneur
- Opportunity to work on exciting new real-world problems
- Opportunity to have your work fielded and change the world
- Opportunity to publish
- Salary plus stock options in a promising startup
- Opportunity to join an exciting new startup in a position of significance

Candidates should email a letter of application, CV, and a list of references to:
Tuomas Sandholm
Professor
Computer Science Department
Carnegie Mellon University
sandholm AT cs DOT cmu DOT edu
http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~sandholm/

Data and Opinions

I give a lot of talks to our students touting the value of data in business decisions.  The Tepper School prides itself on its analytical approach to business, and data is at the heart of this approach.  Of course, what you do with the data is also pretty important, which brings in statistics and operations research.

For years, I have used the following quote in my talks:

Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.

That quote works (I sometimes substitute a cruder word for “person”), but some students continue to think “OK, so let’s talk opinions”, which is not quite what I have in mind.  So I think I will change this to a great quote from Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape:

If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.

That does the job!

HT: Thanks to @JohnDCook whose tweet reminded me of quote.