Saturday, May 30, 2009

Traffic and Pedestrians

Today is the last day of the NET2009 conference in Rome, Italy. It has been a fascinating conference and the conferees are from Switzerland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Argentina, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, Spain, Italy, with me representing the United States. I have heard talks by physicists on finance, on economics, on evolutionary game theory. The theme here is definitely interdisciplinarity. My plenary talk on Thursday focused on supply chains and oligopolies and how we could assess the possible gains from mergers and acquisitions with insights into the merger paradox. My field is operations research and management science so I am interested in mathematical modeling, analysis, and effective algorithms for problem solution as well as managerial insights.

The venue at La Sapienza is a big room and we are offered Italian treats during coffee breaks. My hotel is the hotel for aviators (translated roughly from the Italian) so I am surrounded by men in uniform. Navigating the streets and crosswalks of Rome has been quite the experience. Even with a green light, I cross, only to get mopeds and cars literally almost clipping my heels. Several times I thought that I would not make it across the street, even while trying to cross with a group of Italians, but somehow, miraculously, the traffic stops and I look into the eyes of the drivers.

As for parking, I have seen cars parked on crosswalks, on sidewalks, and almost on top of one another as in those fabulous children books by Richard Scarry with the characters Huckle and Lowly.

I continue to be impressed by the elegance of the people here and how they greet each other so warmly and courteously. My hotel has the most delicious food but the rooms do not have carpets (but lovely hardwood floors) so noise travels plus one needs to lock oneself into the room with a big key. In case of fire I do not think that anyone would be able to unlock the doors to escape (in addition there are metal grates on the room windows). The rooms are clean but spartan. The beds are tiny and one gets one sheet as a cover. I must have gotten accommodations for a private rather than for an officer.

Travel always opens up one's eyes and strengthens one's survival skills and sense of adventure.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Plenary talk, Net2009, Rome, and the European Soccer Championship

This morning I gave my plenary talk on supply chain network oligopolies, coalitions, and the merger paradox at the NET2009 conference at La Sapienza in Rome, Italy. I managed to find the conference room in which I was speaking due to a nice custodian who understood sufficient English and knew where the conference was taking place. The audience consisted of physicists (primarily, judging from the show of hands), operations researchers and applied mathematicians, economists, computer scientists, and a few engineers. The talks have been excellent as have been the questions. The methodologies and models of networks differ in these fields and it is fascinating to see common themes of interest and application.

I just finished eating an exquisite lunch of sauteed porcini mushrooms with pasta seasoned with parmesan cheese and parsley, grilled fish, salad, and fruit. Luckily, there is time for a short siesta since the talks will continue until around 6PM today.

One of the conference participants is from Barcelona and he showed me his Barcelona and Manchester United banner from the European soccer final, which took place in Rome yesterday. I took a photo of the banner and will post photos after my return to the US. By the way, Barcelona beat Manchester 2 to 0. Now I understand why there were so many British as well as Spaniards yesterday in Rome wearing all sorts of soccer paraphernalia. Supposedly, 50,000 fans descended on Rome to cheer the teams and all the hotels were booked so many soccer fans have been camping out wherever they can find a spot.

La Sapienza, the university that is hosting the NET2009 conference, is a world-renowned university and this is my first time speaking at this university. Interestingly, I am the only speaker from the United States!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Rome and La Sapienza

I made it today to Rome, Italy and flew Alitalia out of Logan airport in Boston on Memorial Day. Amazingly, the turnpike traffic was minimal during the afternoon and we breezed through the toll booths. As a consequence I had several hours to spare at the airport but enjoyed seeing the Memorial Day holiday travelers. I had delightful companions on the Valley Transporter shuttle and got a chance to catch up with Smith College news since I shared the ride with a chair of a department at Smith and her husband who were traveling to Paris.

Alitalia provided excellent service and the dinner en flight was delicious -- salmon with green beans, a fresh salad, roasted potatos, and fresh fruit. My seatmates were a couple from New England who were traveling through Rome to Istanbul to meet a friend from Odessa there. I even managed to catch a few hours of sleep.

The taxi ride from the Rome airport allowed me to experience the morning commute traffic which was very congested but at least many of the highways are decorated with blooming flowers. Plus I had a delightful taxi driver. We communicated in my Spanish and his Italian with a bit of English here and there.

I am staying in a military hotel close to La Sapienza, the university that is the venue of the conference that I will be speaking at. The lunch today was incredible -- the salad with cherry tomatos and cheese plus the grilled fish simply delicious. This part of Rome is not touristy and very few people speak English, which makes the communications interesting.

The temperature here is very hot and humid -- so different from Amherst, Massachusetts this past week!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and Off to Italy

The 2009 - 2010 Fellows at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University have now been announced.

I am delighted that there is a Science Fellow in Mathematics from UMass Amherst and several terrific clusters as there were the year that I was a Science fellow at Radcliffe (2005-2006). The announcement brings back numerous memories. That year I made new friendships, wrote my "Supply Chain Network Economics" book, and formed new collaborations. I have included some photos in this post from that very special year at Radcliffe. The top photo was taken in my Radcliffe office in Putnam House. The middle photo was taken at the restaurant Casablanca in Cambridge on Brattle Street, and the bottom photo is from the Radcliffe Fellows "graduation" ceremony at which we received certificates. In that photo is Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust, who was then the Dean of Radcliffe and is now Harvard's President.

Today I am off to Italy to give a plenary talk. It will be interesting to travel to Logan airport in Boston especially since it is Memorial Day and the toll collectors may be having a slowdown as happened during a recent holiday.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Trifecta -- Three Events and the Perfect Day

I took part in three events yesterday: as a faculty member I marched in cap and gown in the graduate UMass Amherst graduation ceremonies and celebrated with the PhD and Master's degree recipients and their family members and friends; I also enjoyed seeing the Isenberg School Senior Leaders receive their awards at a ceremony in the school's atrium and had the opportunity to meet several of the graduating seniors parents, which was very special. Finally, in the evening, I watched my daughter and her class put on the Music Man at The Bement School. It will be hard to top a day as magnificent as this!

Friday, May 22, 2009

UMass Amherst Graduations

Today and tomorrow the Amherst area will be filled with graduating students and their families and friends who will be taking part in the graduation ceremonies and festivities. Today at the Mullins Center, the graduate ceremony will be taking place, at which Master's degrees and PhD degrees will be awarded. My student, Patrick Qiang, will be receiving his doctoral diploma today. He is my 14th PhD student to graduate and he will be accompanied by his wife, many friends, and even his mother-in-law who traveled from China for this big occasion. My PhD students, whose dissertations I chaired, have assumed positions in industry from financial services to high technology and software development; others are now faculty members at universities in Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, Tennessee, Illinois, and even in Australia and Canada! Everywhere I go I get compliments on our wonderful students who have received their educations at UMass Amherst.

After the graduate ceremonies, later today, the Isenberg School will be honoring Senior Leaders with a reception in our gorgeous Isenberg School of Management atrium. Two of my Operations Management students, David Bennett and Kyle Johnson, whom I nominated for this award, will be recognized. These two students took my undergraduate Transportation & Logistics class last term and follow in a line of outstanding students that I have had the privilege to teach and to work with. In that class students have done projects as varied and as relevant as: analyzing local bus schedules and routes, addressing bicycle transportation to/from UMass for commuting purposes, studying pedestrian walkways and safety on campus, capturing traffic behavior around the world, including in New Delhi, and improving traffic flow for graduation - we were approached by the then Police Chief at UMass, Ms. Barbara OConnor, for this study; the results were implemented and there were no complaints!

Tomorrow, over 4,000 students will be receiving their undergraduate diplomas from UMass Amherst in ceremonies at McQuirk stadium.

Congratulations to all the most-deserving graduates and thanks to their families and friends for their support!

I end with a link to a commencement speech that I gave a few years back, which brings back many memories.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Women, Math, and Most Creative in Business

Fast Company has announced its 100 most creative people in business and Dr. Brenda Dietrich of IBM, who is well-known in the INFORMS community, is on the list. Dr. Dietrich opened up our Fall 2007 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science and we had the pleasure of hosting her during her visit to the Isenberg School of Management. She was hosted by the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter. Her talk was on service science and she came to Amherst with one of her daughters. It is fantastic that a female in mathematical sciences who has also achieved the ranking of IBM Fellow is now recognized for her creativity and leadership by Fast Company. She is number 27 on the list and Sheila Bair, Chair of the FDIC, who had an office two doors down from me at the Isenberg School before she left to head the FDIC, is number 26. Those of you who know Dr. Dietrich probably know that she is also an amazing knitter -- so, of course, when she was in Amherst she visited WEBS, Americas' yarn store, which is located in Northampton, and which was founded by a former colleague of mine, Professor Art Elkins, and his wife.

Nice to see that the business community continues to recognize the importance of analytics in the optimization of business processes and in the delivery of services. It is especially nice to have a female operations researcher so recognized! Congratulations to Dr. Dietrich and to IBM! Congrats also to Sheila Bair, who is a lawyer, with superb analytical skills!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rome, Italy and the Net2009 Conference

I had to, regretfully, not take part in the Erice, Sicily conference that was organized by my dear colleague, Professor Antonino Maugeri of the University of Catania in Italy, since I am on the search committee for the new Dean of the Isenberg School of Management. Italy's beauty is breathtaking and last year at this time I convened a conference at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center on Lake Como (I hope that you enjoy the above photo that I took of that magical lake). Next week I will be back in Italy, in Rome, since I am an invited speaker at the Net2009 conference, whose theme on networks this year focuses on evolution and complexity. I am very excited about the interdisciplinarity of the network topics and speakers.

I will be speaking on my research on mergers and acquisitions and the merger paradox. The paper has been written. I am very much looking forward to speaking at this conference and to taking part in the exciting program that has been put together by the organizers. This will be a terrific end to an incredibly busy and interesting academic year!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

2009 Graduations and Celebrations

Today's New York Times has a wonderful article on Michelle Obama's speech at the University of California Merced's graduation. UC Merced is the newest campus in the University of California system and the uplift that Michelle Obama's speech gave to the graduates, their families, and to the larger community is captured in this terrific article. Her visit and speech gave the graduates and the community hope and memories that they will not forget. She has also been visiting elementary schools in the DC area and emphasizing to the students the importance of hard work, education, and believing in oneself even if those around you do not. Her strength and perserverance and the time that she takes to personally talk with students serve as exemplars to everyone. I especially appreciate that she chose the location of her first commencement speech an institution with a large minority population and one where many of its graduates are the first to receive college degrees in their families.

The above photo is from the Mullins Center on the UMass Amherst campus, which has been the site for several graduation ceremonies in the past and will be the site of this year's graduate ceremonies on Friday, May 22, 2009. The upcoming commencement week activities and ceremonies will be joyful. Students will be receiving their hard-earned degrees and their families, friends, faculty, administrators, and staff will be celebrating with them. Families have already started to arrive to take part in the ceremonies.

At the Isenberg School of Management, we congratulate the 2009 graduates and thank them and their families for their support. We wish them all happiness, health, and success in their new lives and emphasize that they will always be part of the alumni network.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Back Cover of the Fragile Networks book and the World Science Festival

I decided to share with you the back cover of our book Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, which has just been made available by our publisher Wiley. We are expecting that the book will be out in time for the World Science Festival in NYC in June. I have begun preparing graphics for my presentation on Traffic at this festival. The list of speakers ranges from Nobel laureates to musicians to movie stars to academic researchers and scholars who are passionate about science. Our UMass Amherst Chancellor, Dr. Robert Holub, asked me the other day at one of the banquets that we are partaking in at the end of the academic year whether I will be also dancing and singing at this festival. Network researchers engage in such activities but not necessarily in public. I will stick to what I know and love best -- and that is networks and transportation!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Students and Leadership

Yesterday we had our end of the semester UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter party. At the party we recognized the chapter officers as well as the staff, faculty, and administrators who have provided outstanding support of the chapter and its activities. The party took place in the Isenberg School of Management and the food that the students and faculty prepared and bought was fantastic. We had Turkish, Chinese, Ukrainian, Iranian, and American delights and I ate food specialties that I had never eaten before, which included a vegetable and nut dish that was simply delicious. At the party, the Student Chapter officers were recognized for their outstanding leadership and contributions to the chapter's activities this year (which include the Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science and social and community-building events). Chapter officers are a mini United Nations and come from China, Thailand, Iran, and a Native American! It has been a very special year and during the ceremony we also recognized three chapter officers and members with lifetime honorary memberships who will be receiving their doctorates soon and will be moving on.

We have diversity in the officers as well as in the members of this student chapter. Members include not only graduate students but also undergraduate students and come not only from the Isenberg School of Management but also from the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst, from the Economics Department, and from other departments. This past year the chapter was recognized at the INFORMS National Meeting in Washington DC with the magna cum laude award for its activities.

Leadership comes in many forms and the esprit de corps that the officers exhibit is fantastic as is their work ethic. They show up to events, write thank you cards to our distinguished speakers, organize events, and support one another in numerous ways. By assuming officer positions they obtain genuine and valuable skills that help them not only when they are on the job market but even after they assume their new positions as faculty members or leaders in industry.

This week, which was the last week of classes at UMass Amherst, we helped to host at the Supernetworks Center an apparel executive from Madison Avenue in NYC, who is a UMass Amherst School of Management alumnus. He met with a group of our students and me and shared with us his personal experiences and wisdom on leadership and success in industry. The conversations exchanged and his energy and enthusiasm were some of the highlights of another very busy but rewarding week. His advice: work incredibly hard, accentuate always the positive, and surround yourselves with bright, knowledgeable, positive individuals.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2009 World Science Festival and Traffic

The program for the 2009 World Science Festival is now online and it is thrilling! The daily events can now be accessed and I can hardly wait. I will be a speaker in this year's festival and will be taking part in the Traffic event on Friday, July 12, 2009. You can find more info here. What could be more fun than sharing one's passion for transportation with science lovers in the grandest city of them all -- New York! I am expecting a lot of friends and colleagues at this festival and at the Traffic event.

As for the speakers, I will be in the lineup with such amazing individuals as Alan Alda, Harrison Ford, Shirley Ann Jackson, Leon Lederman, Edward O. Wilson, Oliver Sacks, Harold Varmus and even Bobby McFerrin! Nice to be representing the "western" part of Massachusetts and, in particular, the Isenberg School of Management and UMass Amherst. Special thanks go to Professor Brian Greene of Columbia University, the co-founder of the World Science Festival, and the Chair of the World Science Foundation, for his vision!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Fragile Networks Book Cover (and Finding Happiness According to the Kingdom of Bhutan with Reminiscences about Professor George Dantzig)

Patrick Qiang and I are delighted that Wiley has now provided us with the cover of our book which I am sharing with you. The cover should be posted on online marketing websites in a week or so, we have been told. After canvasing colleagues, students, staff, and neighbors, we provided Wiley with feedback on earlier three options and Wiley's graphic design team came up with the final cover design above. I think that the images provide good visuals for some of the themes which are explored in the book and some of the applications, which range from congested transportation networks and supply chains to financial networks and the Internet plus electric power generation and distribution networks.

Completing this book has been a time-consuming but wonderful experience! The next step is the send-off to the printers, which we are hearing should be happening this week, with copies of the book being made available sometime in mid-June.

Completing the writing of a book generates some satisfaction and, dare one even say, happiness?! Well, the kingdon of Bhutan, a mountanous country in Asia, has developed a gross national happiness index. The New York Times had a feature article on the index today and it reminds me of a conversation that I had with Professor George Dantzig, one of the founders of the field of operations research, before he passed away at the age of 90. Professor Dantzig was a giant in terms of his scholarship and kindness. He made a mark on so many students, academics, and practitioners, through his work, publications, and warm personality. He is missed tremendously. Professor Dantzig told me that he had been working on, among other projects, constructing appropriate utility functions for the United States. Here is an interview with Professor Dantzig by Peter Horner and the article includes a photo of Professor Dantzig hugging me.

Lo and behold, in a sense, the government of Bhutan has constructed utility functions, with weights for different criteria, to enable the measurement of "gross national happiness." It is worth spending some time on the website above, which even discusses the length of time to achieve of PhD and the impact on happiness! The article in the NYTimes was most refreshing and fun to read. The government of Bhutan even "gets it" that time spent on activities such as work and sleep matters as does time spent in cultural and social pursuits.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Supply Chain Lecture is Now "Live"

Thanks to my hosts at the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California Davis, my lecture on supply chain networks in a global economy with a focus on vulnerabilities and synergies and what can be learned from 50 years of transportation research, which was part of the Spring 2009 series, is now "live" and online. The talk was videotaped at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst last Friday and broadcast live to the audience at UC Davis. It is now available for viewing online along with the presentation slides. The introduction is a bit lengthy and the technology did not work perfectly but the 90 minute lecture is now more or less intact and available in this format.

Special thanks go out to Susan Milne and Emid LaClaire of the IT staff at the Isenberg School and to Ning Wan at UC Davis for making this video event possible. Also, I acknowledge my UC Davis colleagues and hosts Professor Mokhtarian and Professor Fan. Finally, I thank my doctoral students: Qiang "Patrick" Qiang, Amir Masoumi, and Min Yu for being my "physical" audience at the Isenberg School during the live videostreaming.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Green Jobs and Environmental Research at a Business School

This Friday, we will be hosting Professor Robert Pollin, the Co-Director of PERI at UMass Amherst, in our Spring 2009 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science. Dr. Pollin will be speaking on green jobs at 11AM in the Isenberg School of Management on May 8, 2009. We are delighted to be hosting his talk. His talk will conclude our Spring 2009 INFORMS Speaker Series. Given the timeliness of Dr. Pollin's topic and the media coverage of his research, we are expecting a fantastic turnout and audience.

We have been conducting research on environmental topics at the Isenberg School of Management for quite a few years. Some recent topics that we have tackled include what environmental advantages or synergies can be obtained through mergers and acquisitions, cap and trade programs for electric power supply chains, as well as the impact of transportation infrastructure degradation on environmental emissions. A business school is an excellent setting for conducting such research given the interdisciplinary background of the faculty and the interests of students.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Supply chain risk management and the swine flu

Given the escalating news about the swine flu, I thought that, as a researcher in supply chains and risk management, it would be wise to step back and to think about the major issues. Already in our town of Amherst, Massachusetts, stores have sold out of face masks and hand sanitizers and the demand for these products is, obviously, great. We are reading about travelers from Mexico being isolated as they arrive in China and a hotel in Hong Kong essentially quarantined along with its guests. Clearly, corporations as well as governments will be faced with how best to deliver needed supplies, in the case of an escalating health crisis, while, at the same time, trying to minimize risk. Here we can think of risk in a broad sense and even include the risk of contagion and spreading the disease.

In 2005, we published a paper in the European Journal of Operational Research, which developed a framework that captured the interactions of decision-makers in multitiered supply chains under risk and uncertainty and also allowed for electronic commerce. I suspect, given the reality of the swine flu and its spread, that we will be seeing more electronic transactions and communications, since "social distancing" is one way of stemming the dissemination of contagious illnesses. The spread of the swine flu is now global in nature and the impact on supply chains, hence, can also be expected to be global. Here you can read about our global supply chain network research and risk management where we also discussed SARS. Clearly, the issues are dynamic in nature, and it will be very interesting to see how this latest global health crisis affects the production of goods and supply chains, including humanitarian ones. In a study on the dynamics of global supply chains and risk management we track the evolution over time of decision-makers' optimal decisions under risk and uncertainty.

Friday, May 1, 2009

New Media, Supernetworks, and Giving my UCDavis Talk Breezing in from Amherst

In 2005, I opened up the Mesh Forum conference in Chicago, which was organized by Shannon Clark, with my lecture on Networks -- the Science that Spans Disciplines. The talk was recorded and is available for downloading and has been used in courses at, among other universities, Duke University, and now at New York University. I stumbled upon the Spring 2009 course at NYU on New Media that is using my Mesh Forum lecture, complete with slides, as Lecture 13 in the course syllabus and you can read the comments on this material here. Nice to see other universities and instructors making use of material that I have researched also as Director of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks.

Speaking of "New Media," I just completed giving a 90 minute lecture on global supply chain network vulnerabilities and synergies and what we can learn from 50 years of research in transportation that was streamed live to the University of California Davis. We used "breeze" technology from Room G12 in the Isenberg School of Management with three of my doctoral students providing me with a direct face-to-face audience. My hosts in California, Professors Mokhtarian and Fan, helped to check out the technology before my presentation and I had a small video clip of my talking head and my presentation on the computer monitor in front of me. This was definitely a new experience for me and we had a minor technical disruption midway, which resulted in me going over several of the preceding slides. Overall the experience was definitely interesting and with the growing number of swine flu cases (documented as well as suspected) this approach to delivering a talk definitely minimized the risk. Shortly before my talk, the news broke that a United flight from Munich to Dulles was diverted to Boston Logan airport becaise a female on the plane was exhibiting flu symptoms!

In my lecture today, I noted the impacts of automobile manufacturers' declining sales on shortages of supplies in pharmaceutical supply chains as well as the shortages of chassis negatively impacting the manufacture of ambulances. Here we see a direct example of supply chain versus supply chain competition and associated disruptions impacting industries that one would think are far -afield from one another! The lecture was videotaped and it will be interesting to see what the ultimate production looks like especially since I noted the delays in my voice streaming into the computer as well as delays in the projection of my slides.

I thank the UCDavis Professors Mokhtarian and Fan for being my virtual hosts for my lecture during this time of uncertainty surrounding travel because of the swine flu.