Friday, December 30, 2005

Does your library have all the INFORMS Journals?

INFORMS is running a grass-roots effort to get more libraries to carry INFORMS journals. They have a neat setup that you can check if your (university) library carries every journal. You can even email your librarian to encourage subscriptions.

Most libraries are cutting back on journals, partially due to some extremely high prices on journals. INFORMS journals, being published by INFORMS, are quite reasonably priced, but of very high quality. Every library should have them!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Sad News from India

From the Indian Express:

Terror struck an international conference at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) campus on Wednesday night killing a retired Mathematics professor from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, M.C. Puri, and seriously injuring four others including one of the inventors of the Simputer, Prof Vijay Chandru from IISc.

The attack was, according to eyewitness accounts, carried out by a lone gunman who wielded an AK-47 and threw hand grenades. The attacker was driven away in a white Ambassador car immediately after the attack, eyewitnesses said.

All major cities in south India have been put on high alert after the incident.

The other injured persons have been identified as Dr Pankaj Gupta from Delhi, P Patel, a lab assistant at the Cadila Lab in the IISc campus, and a woman identified only as Sonia, an assistant professor at IIM, Lucknow.

‘‘All the injured have been ruled to be out of danger,’’ Additional Commissioner of Police H C Kishore Chandra said.

Delegates at the International Conference on Operations Research Applications in Infrastructure Development and the 38th Annual convention of Operation Research Society of India (ORSI) were proceeding from IISc’s National Science Seminar Complex to the Satish Dhawan auditorium for an AGM of the ORSI at around 7:30 p.m. when the attack took place.
Full Story

Vijay Chandru is a co-author of mine, and my thoughts are with him, the others injured and the family of Prof. Puri.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Happy (belated) Christmas

I was off in Germany for the last week, without an internet connection. Hope you all had an optimal Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Christmas and OR

It is Christmas time, so lots of people are waiting in line, and talking about it. Naturally, this leads to some OR related articles. Ivars Peterson in his Math Trek column at Science News talks about parking strategies: do you park and walk, or cycle through hoping for a better spot (seems the better is generally the better strategy). And the Birminham News is the latest to talk about Dick Larson's work on queue behavior.

Monday, December 12, 2005

OR and Suicide Bombs

This past weekend, the NY Times Magazine in its annual Ideas issue reports on Ed Kaplan's work with Moshe Kress on damage done by suicide bombers. Here is an excerpt:

Even if you manage to detect a suicide bomber, what do you do next? This question was taken up by Edward H. Kaplan, a professor of public health at Yale, in a paper he published in July, written with Moshe Kress of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. Kaplan and Kress investigated the physics of a belt-bomb blast and reached some unexpected conclusions. It turns out that very few people are killed by the concussive force of a suicide explosion; the deadly weapon is in fact the shrapnel - the ball bearings, nails or pieces of metal that the attacker attaches to the outside of his bomb. The explosions, though, are usually not powerful enough to send these projectiles all the way through a human body, which means that if your view of a suicide bomber is entirely obscured by other people at the moment of detonation, you are much more likely to escape serious injury. Because of the geometry of crowds, Kaplan found, a belt bomb set off in a heavily populated room will actually yield fewer casualties than one set off in a more sparsely populated area; the unlucky few nearest to the bomb will absorb all of its force.

The authors used these calculations to question some assumptions about what authorities should do if they detect a bomber. The International Association of Chiefs of Police issued guidelines this year suggesting that police officers who find a bomber in a crowd should fire shots into the air to cause people near the bomber to scatter or hit the deck. But Kaplan's calculations demonstrate that in many cases, this would make things worse - as a packed crowd ran away from a bomber or dropped to the ground, the circle of potential victims around him would get wider and thus more populous, and more lives could be lost.

Amazing what a little OR will teach you!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Book blurb

Springer has just published a new book containing introductory tutorials on a range of optimization subjects: Search Methodologies: Introductory Tutorials in Optimization and Decision Support Techniques. Of course, I have a vested interest: Bob Bosch and I wrote the Integer Programming chapter, which I think came out quite nice!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Wikipedia and Operations Research

Wikipedia is in the news, due to some inaccurate/obnoxious/insulting entries regarding a journalist and alleged involvement in the Kennedy assassinations.

Wikipedia is an interesting effort to harness the knowledge and energy of hundreds of thousands of people to form a new type of encyclopedia. The key aspect is the ability to freely enter information (or misinformation) and edit what is there.

The entry for operations research is pretty good, covering both the general (what is OR) and the specific (some military and other examples). The pointers are well selected. The "history" gives all the past edits, and it is striking how many edits went into this entry alone. That is one advantage of multiple people working on it: 100 edits don't seem bad if 50 people are doing them.

But what is to stop someone from putting "Operations Research is an upsidedown cake with cherries" into the entry? As this Wired article describes, with enough interested volunteers, such vandalism can get corrected within minutes. Of course, that assumes the entry is in an area with knowledgeable and active volunteers. I wonder how much misinformation is stored in the backwaters of wiki.

Despite the doubts, I think a wiki based Encyclopedia of OR would be a tremendous asset for the field. While some expert-based encyclopedias are fine (Gass and Harris have a good one, at an astounding $620 new), a community based wiki would be more up-to-date and be able to cover far more.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

More on Scientific Publishing

Wired magazine pointed me to, which is fascinating! There was a posting relevant to issues of publishing science which seems very relevant to OR:

Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely - since they’ll be the ones interested in reading the stuff - people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it’s edited by a whole team of people who don’t understand it.

Lots of good stuff there.