Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kargil represented the first positive change in fortunes in the war against terror

It's been ten years since more than 500 of India's bravest gave their lives fighting desperate, uphill battles, in sub-freezing cold in the highest battlefields of this planet against well-entrenched Pakistani regulars and afghan mercenaries within Indian sovereign territory. If the first ten years of the Pak Army-ISI-taliban nexus (PIT) terrorist agenda (1989-1999) went PIT's way in terms of changing ground reality and world perception, Kargil resulted in the first positive change, with the world finally becoming aware of PIT's crazy designs, and the last ten years have increasingly opened the world's minds to the ever increasing threats emanating from the PIT nexus.

From the frozen battlefield of Rezang-La in 1962 (among the most heroic, last-ditch military battles recorded in India's multi-millenial history) to the battle for Tiger Hill, the Indian Jawan, like every honorable soldier in the free world fighting on the side of democracy, has fought fairly, and in the end, prevailed, and if he had to, died, but never backed down. This tab salutes them on Vijay divas.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Optimizing the Health-Care Reform Package of Obama using Operations Research

In his press conference yesterday, President Obama used the word "unconstrained" while talking about the escalating costs within health care system. He later used the term "constrained system" (or was it "constrained model") when talking about financial regulation. Is one of his advisors an OR guy??

Another interesting aspect that he mentioned was that some democrats wanted some additional provisions in the healthcare package that would address their regional interests, which would then cost additional money, so some chopping and changing has to be done and the August deadline is flexible as well. To an Operations Research person, it seems a sin not to optimize and automate the fine-tuning of the package, which would lead to savings in time and money. So after adding all the fundamental (must-have) provisions, the remaining 10-20% of the contentious provisions (bids) can be optimized to save taxpayer money.

If a new health-care provision i brings in v(i) net votes and net cost c(i) and removing a pre-existing provision j results in v(j) net votes at a net cost of c(j), and defining binary decision variables:
xi = 1 if new provision i is added, 0 otherwise
yj = 1 if existing provision j is removed, 0 otherwise

index set i runs over the set of new provisions, while j corresponds to existing provisions that are candidates for removal.

the bill optimization problem becomes:

Minimize sum(i) ci. xi - sum (j) cj. yj
subject to:
sum(i) v(i). xi - sum(j) v(j). yj >= MINIMUM_VOTES_NEEDED_FOR_CONSENSUS
x, y binary

The aim of this optimization model is to minimize the total cost of fine tuning the package, subject to meeting the minimum approval needed to get the package approved. Obviously, this is a simple linear integer knapsack problem and in practice, there may be more constraints and objectives in the world of politics and governance. Furthermore, we assume linearity and a simple model to start off with. To improve acceptance, one can also add constraints based on other provision attributes. e.g, to satisfy budgets by area of Health-care. Alternatively, one can maximize the number of votes in favor of the package and add a constraint on the total incremental cost of fine-tuning.

Conceptually, the model is quite interesting. While it will generally aim to keep the best bang-for-buck provisions, it also recognizes that these provisions cannot be split into 'half-measures' to meet constraints and therefore a greedy selection based on bang-for-buck may be suboptimal.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Duality of Indic religious philosophies: Do they sink or swim together?

Dr. Hari.J has an interesting blog post on this subject. He quotes Swami Vivekananda who opined that Hindusim and Buddism cannot survive without each other. On the other hand, as Dr. HJ rightly mentiones, there are few places in the world where the two religions do exist independently, without the other.

Geographically yes, but perhaps they are not intellectually and philosophically independent. I suspect the Swami meant the latter. Indeed, Indic religious philosophies (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism) are all joined at the hip and generally thrived up until a few 500-odd years ago due to healthy competition (i.e., very vigorous discourse and debates. Presumably, changing 'religions' in India (one cannot be sure if they thought of it as a religion as defined today in the western world), during those days was perhaps as easy as the switch between windows, Linux or Mac. These debates had an impact on the ground reality and "optimized" the Indic religious philosophies better. For example, Adi Sankara of Kerala is credited with having "upgraded" Hindu philosophies that eventually allowed Hiduism to survive in India. This he did via vigorous debates with Buddhist leaders.

That process is dead now and perhaps the Swami implied that he did not want this process of discourse and debate to stop. Not surprisingly, a lot of the angst in the world today stems from frustration with entrenched harmful practices within ones own religion, in tandem with of a lack of mutual respect for how the other religion's core philosophies are the same and how they are different.

[Edited on 7/22/09 for typos]

Test Cricket rises from the Ashes

After the heartbreaking sight of seeing half-empty stadiums during the thoroughly exciting India_Aus test series in India, 2008, it is great to see the support in England for the ashes. T20 has its place for the instant-fun factor, but test cricket is the real deal. Facing multiple spells of hostile bowling from 'freddie' Flintoff at speeds up to 95mph, with the crowd against you, is quite a test, and a thrilling spectacle for everybody else. Test cricket at its best is a series of bone jarring, uncompromising gladiatorial contests involving brute strength as well as subtle guile, waged within a chess-series-like intellectual campaign at the higher level, all of which is encoded using myriad gentlemanly rules of engagement, spread over five days. After all the hard work, you may not get a decisive result at the end of it.

The whites of the uniforms and the greens of outfield dominate the view, but at its core, cricket is bloody red. More than any sport (golf comes close), the injuries to the psyche of a test cricketer are hardest to recover from, as Greg Chappel said. If you get out, you are out of the test match for a couple of days before a second shot at redemption, if at all there is one. Indeed, test cricket is the most realistic reality show the world has invented. And yes, you can tool for hours watching it. Lets hope for many more riveting contest during the ashes and may Test cricket prosper.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Recalling the Sunny Days - He wore India on his sleeve

Hail Sunil Manohar Gavaskar, the world's greatest opening batsman across eras! Sunil Gavaskar was born on July 10th 1949. Feels like he just retired a few years ago after that masterful near-double in the unofficial (Bicentennial?) test at Lords. Never wore a helmet against the W.Indian Quicks in the 70s-80s and never backed down, ever. Today's NFL-style padded up millionaire cricketers on benign pitches resembles a Bollywood poor-joke compared to those days of real cricket. One of the Windies fans (Lord Relator) even wrote a calypso in awe of his batting ....

I recall his jokes during his lecture at IIT-Madras a decade and half go.
Q. Why did you refuse the MCC membership ?
A. That's incorrect. I love the Madras Cricket Club and am happy to be an honorary member" (laughter among the entire campus who turned up on the occasion, well after his retirement).
Q. Sir, we meant the Marylebone Cricket Club ..
A. Oh that. Who cares about some Firangi Cricket club. I'm honored to be a part of MCC this week. (chuckles). Audience goes nuts and eats out of his hands afterwards.

Many may not agree with some of his potshots at the Aussies (especially the one against Hookes), and his commentary may sometimes put u to sleep, but every thing else that Sunny does is just fine with me. If only that idiotic owner of the Kolkata KR T20 circus had listened to SMG and fired Buchanan before this year's edition, instead of after ...

And yes, Buchanan has conferred with England before the ashes. He's even spilled secrets. Any chance of an English victory is now extinguished. A clever Aussie plot!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

GooPLEX: Go Google! Wake up COIN-OR!

The first release of Google's open-source simplex solver (which this tab dubs 'GooPLEX') appears to be a simple toy version of the simplex method for Linear Programs. GooPLEX appears to be missing all the basic ingredients of a practically viable solver such as the revised simplex method, dual simplex, sparse LU factorization, etc. The good news is that we finally have an open-source solver whose license (Apache) is actually useful in the real world.

COIN-OR has a dedicated team, and a fantastic repository of solvers and other OR stuff. Unfortunately, its licensing (CPL and now EPL) is still uncomfortably and frustratingly restrictive for companies to use commercially, and thereby also improve by contributing to it. Consequently, it is likely that COIN-OR is going to be popular mainly within the OR-academic bubble. Ironically, most OR/IE departments will already have GUROBI or CPLEX licenses and thus wont be dependent on such *PL license based LP/MIP solvers. We OR folks need to stop shooting ourselves in the foot.

The smartest course of action for IBM and the COIN-OR team is to do what Google did and make the COIN-OR available under Apache/BSD. On the other hand, one hopes Google's developers and the OR community will improve upon GooPLEX and make it a scalable product. Go Google, and welcome to the world of O.R!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Google releases open-source Simplex Solver

good news for O.R practitioners. I wish COIN-OR would make their license as friendly as google's simplex solver. We'll have to look into the code to see if it's an efficient and effective implementation (e.g., dual simplex with LU factorization) for large LPs.

Here's the license details cut-and-pasted from the source.

1 /*
2 * Licensed to the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) under one or more
3 * contributor license agreements. See the NOTICE file distributed with
4 * this work for additional information regarding copyright ownership.
5 * The ASF licenses this file to You under the Apache License, Version 2.0
6 * (the "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance with
7 * the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at
8 *
9 *
10 *
11 * Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software
12 * distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS,
13 * WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied.
14 * See the License for the specific language governing permissions and
15 * limitations under the License.
16 */