Informs Northeast Conference 2011 - summary

The INFORMS Northeast conference 2011 was held at U Mass, Amherst yesterday and today. There were many wonderful presentations from students and practitioners alike and it did not feel too crowded either. There was good representation from the OR-strong schools in the Northeast. In terms of industry participation, bigwigs IBM, Oracle (Retail), GE, the US Military, and a host of other interesting LLCs participated, giving students some valuable exposure to some real world business analytics and OR.

My personal favorites:

- The poster session: One example: Using OR to optimally do vehicle routing and sequencing to expedite power restoration after a major power loss in the network at multiple locations. Pretty innovative. and cool.

- Dr. Simchi Levi's plenary on the effectiveness of long chains in improving flexibility - Innovation in supply chain optimization continues...

- Optimal use of Airspace/runway capacity at congested airports - There were three talks featuring young OR/MS faculty members - I suspect we will hear a lot more about them in the coming years

- Agent based simulation by GE corporate research to optimally and practically manage a terribly complex 10-year project involving river dredging. There is something intuitively appealing about ABS and its utterly object-oriented approach to modeling and I do hope I get to use that idea somewhere.

Other comments:
- students (and some others as well) need to be doing more scientific-graphical presentations. More pictures - not the clip-art clutter / video junk type, but a well-thought out, informative visualization of scientific results that makes your approach more transparent to an audience that doesn't necessarily share your background. Mind numbing equation after equation is a kill-joy. Why tell when you can show?

- Of course, great work by the main chair, Dr. Hari J. of U Mass (that's thirty letters in a name, like his blogspot address). The 'health care and OR' sessions were quite packed (there were even some bonafide MD's presenting analytical stuff!) and hopefully this means that a lot more innovative work is on the way in this important area.

Nice work, and hope for an encore next year.

p.s: GPS sub-optimal response reconfirmed
This issue was mentioned on this non-blog a few months before, and now we have reconfirmation that for a brief time period, the GPS routing algorithm (Garmin, my favorite brand) does not always recalculate the optimal path if you deviate from the chosen route. The best route from Elmsford, NY to Amherst MA per google maps appears to be any one of three arc-disjoint pareto-optimal paths (practically). For a period of 10 minutes when I was off the GPS-recommended route in pursuit of an alternative optimal route (that was less congested historically), I was asked to get back to plan and every rejected exit increased my ETA. Finally, the GPS thingy gave up and recalculated from scratch and suddenly the ETA plunged to a value pretty close to the original value, as expected.

This strategy to 'get back to plan' is not uncommon and I don't consider this a defect (not yet). At large airlines, real-time aircraft routers and dispatchers (aka irregular ops) typically utilize such a scheme to minimize any unintended cascading disruptions introduced by wholesale re-optimization.


  1. Re "mind numbing equation after equation" (of which I used to be guilty): this is mostly age-related. Partly, it's a matter of experience. Eventually presenters begin to realize that the audience consists of (a) those who know what an flow balance constraints looks like (and don't need to see another) and (b) those who are in the wrong room. Partly it's physiological. As you get older, you begin to realize (from listening to other talks) that nobody can remember what half the symbols in the model mean, and nobody from the middle of the room back can read the subscripts.

    That said, the real killer to me is not the model. It's when somebody feels the urge to burn half their allotted time doing a proof. Proofs are for papers.


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