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Yo Trick! Where’ve you been?

I was annoyed at myself this morning when I realized that January was almost over and I had only 3 blog posts.  Since my goal is 3/week, it is clear that I am getting the year off on the wrong foot.   I could, of course, put in eight or so posts on being too busy to post (kinda like a tweet I had about being too busy to tweet!) but I don’t think my audience would fall for that:  being OR people, they are pretty smart and can see through such an obvious ploy.

But it has been an interesting month, so I thought I would update on some of things that are happening in my life.  Perhaps this will also help with the question “What does a faculty member do all day long?”

I’ll begin with teaching, since this is a pretty heavy teaching period, with two courses and three sections:

The first course is “Mining Data for Decision Making”, a course that I created back in 2000 for our MBA students.  This course is extremely popular with the MBAs and I ended with with full classes (80 students each) for the two sections, with about 40 on the waiting list.  After a couple less-than-stellar lectures, I got it whittled down to 7 left on the waiting list by the time the add-drop deadline came by.  One quick vignette:  In an early class, we talk about supermarket affinity cards and how much information you give supermarkets about yourself when you use their cards.  I point out that in return for that information, supermarkets give you discounts and perhaps can better tune their advertising efforts to your individual interests.  Of course, this can work against you:  if a supermarket believes that you will certainly buy a particular salsa, do you think they will give you a coupon for that salsa?  Should they give you such a coupon?  Since their actions are unclear, it is uncertain whether they are helping or hurting you with the information you give them.

That night, we got an automated call from our local supermarket saying that some hash browns we bought a few months ago were tainted with listeria (my wife’s response: “You cook once a month and even then you poison us!”).  They knew we bought the hash browns from the affinity card data, showing an advantage for using the card and providing correct contact data.

The other course I am involved with is Operations Research Implementations.  Our goal in this MBA course is to get way beyond the “four variable, three constraint” formulations and to get students doing things that look more like real-world projects.  We were lucky had had 20 students sign up, which is an ideal size for this type of course.  We chose AIMMS as our modeling package, with Gurobi as the underlying software. I am co-teaching this course with Willem van Hoeve. My main goal was to learn how to use AIMMS, and it has gone very well so far.  I also continue to be very impressed with the Gurobi solver.

For this course, students do a project (in teams), either from us or chosen on their own.  The ones we offered were

  1. Truck contracting (ala work I did with the postal service)
  2. Sports scheduling for a purpose-built little league complex
  3. Inbound distribution routing
  4. Wildlife corridor design

One group has already decided to do a project on their own:  ad placement in an online environment.  We’ll see whether other groups have their own ideas of if they are going to pick from the above).

More later on about doing academic administration, journal activities, and all the other things faculty members do.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Carlos Serrano | January 25, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Permalink


    Thanks for the interesting post.
    I am intrigued by whether you’ve seen a significant increase in popularity for classes related to decision management through the years.
    I have been in this space for some time (disclosure: I have been part of FICO – who purchased Dash that I am sure you are quite familiar with), and I have been disappointed by the fact that decision management remains an arcane discipline, even among those whose whole job is to take, analyze and manage decisions.
    I am also curious to know whether the traction remains mostly in MBA programs – to the exclusion of CS or even OR.
    Thanks for your insights.

  2. Louis | January 26, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the post. I’ve recently started a new life in academia, and the “what does a faculty do all day” is a bit hard to explain sometimes, and every now and then I wonder if I’m doing it right.

    I appreciate the comment about lectures and wait list. I had a class over the summer that somehow had a much higher then expected enrollment. I sent an email a couple weeks before the first class reminding them of what was expected due to the subject matter, but it was after the first lecture that the class became a manageable size.

  3. Larry (IEOR Tools) | January 27, 2010 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    You and me both. I’ve only done a couple of posts this month. I have a new job and I’ve been focusing on that mainly.

    I’m really interested in the online ad placement project as that is associated with my new job. I would love to get ideas on implementation.

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