Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Time-constrained Technical Talks

Just jotting down some thoughts while attending the IEEE SmartGridComm conference in Vancouver, Canada. The talk duration here is roughly the same as that at INFORMS, about 20 minutes. There were plenty of talks on EVs (electric vehicles) in terms of their impact on the grid, locating charging stations, charging strategies, etc. I blogged about the Tesla routing problem - a very simple treatment purely out of curiosity - Smart-grid researchers have taken a variety of such EV related optimization problems to much more sophisticated levels. The most interesting feature of this SGComm edition was the introduction of 'Lightning Talks' of five minutes duration at lunch time, buzzer controlled. Given my extremely limited background in power systems and electrical engineering, I attended these five-minute talks for the novelty factor, and betting that nobody would present anything too complicated in five minutes. Of the 8 talks, 2 finished 1-2 minutes ahead of time, 2 were buzzer-beaters (nice!), and 4 violated the time-limit.So 50% of the time, the knapsack constraint was satisfied (half of that, tightly).

INFORMS may consider adding this feature in their next edition. After all, 'the elevator pitch' is an important part of OR soft skills. The talks were quite informative and the talkers cut to the chase and spend their scarce resource (time) trying to convey the one or two key ideas rather than to walk through excruciating technical details. The best talk was by Naeem, a researcher originally from Tanzania (where 97% of the villages have no electricity), who, in five-ish minutes, talked about how he came up with a micro-grid solution for villages that used diesel generators to provide electricity for lighting, some Jugaad-type ideas, and using Sim-card based methods for managing payments. Quite brilliant. Here's a link, and be sure to google his work. My fifteen minutes is up.

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