I am a sucker for competitions. The people at PATAT (a conference series Practice and Theory of Automated Timetabling; I was co-chair for their 2004 conference, and a member of their steering committee for a few years) do a really good job at timetabling competitions. I really liked their competition for the 2008 conference on course and exam timetabling. I had some thoughts of using logical Benders’ to solve one of the problems but didn’t quite get my act together for it. But I liked the problems and I liked the organization.
The next competition has just begin, though it is on an accelerated schedule. The topic is nurse rostering and ends June 1, 2010. This is an important practical problem:
Building good rosters for nurses in hospitals has received ample attention in recent years and is recognised as a difficult combinatorial optimisation problem with practical relevance. In hospitals much effort is spent producing solutions which are workable and of a high quality.
It is a nicely designed competition, but be aware that you can’t use commercial codes. So those of us who use CPLEX/XPRESS/Gurobi as a linear or integer programming base are probably out of luck:
Participants have to implement an algorithm to tackle the problem on a single processor machine; they can use any programming language. The use of third-party software is allowed under the following restrictions:
- it is free software
- it’s behaviour is (reasonably) documented
- it runs under a commonly-used operating system (Linux or Windows)
Working with COIN-OR is probably legal, under a broad definition of “reasonably documented”. But it is interesting that Mac operating systems are not deemed “commonly-used”.
Despite these caveats, I do recommend the competition, and perhaps will see you in Belfast!