Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Science of Internet Advertising

Given the number of requests that I have received lately from firms, especially from start-up firms, to write about them in this blog, my daughter suggested that I start charging for such "services."

Since I am a researcher and educator, for the time being, I will instead note some research of ours, which has just been published. The research is on the general theme of the Science of Internet Ads, which we have been pursuing with co-authors. Our latest paper, hot off the press is, "An Integrated Approach for the Design of Optimal Web Banners," and it appears in volume 11 of the journal Netnomics (2010), pp. 69-83. My co-authors are Professors Lili Hai and Lan Zhao of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Information Science at SUNY Old Westbury.

In this paper, we target the very first step of Internet advertising -- that of banner design using the tools of statistical analysis and optimization.

While banner advertising has become prevalent, consumers have also become more selective. Indeed, the banners' click-through rate, which is the ratio of the number of click-throughs to the number of exposures (times that the banner is shown to Internet surfers), has declined precipitously to an average of less than one-half percent.

In order to be fully effective with banners, a scientifically sound approach using real time data is needed to determine an optimal design.

Our paper demonstrates how to use a statistical predictive technique and optimization methods to exploit the richness of data collected on banner visitors' activities in order to achieve the goal of optimizing the banner designs. The optimization procedure begins with establishing a banner information repository that complies with database technology.

The above data may change for each advertising cycle. After the establishment of the information repository, the statistical predictive model is constructed based on the data. It not only identifies the significant components, but also quantifies the contribution of each component to the click-through rate of a banner. The predictive model sets click-through rate as the function of banner components. Finally, mixed integer programming is used to maximize the click-through rate as a function of the feasible set of components.

The major benefits of our method are that it allows one to systematically improve banner advertising by capturing the dynamics of browsers and to "unintrusively" personalize web advertising at the cluster-level.

In our first paper on Internet advertising, published also in Netnomics, in 2005, Zhao and I modeled optimal Internet advertising strategies for allocating an ad budget to websites as a network optimization problem, and constructed an efficient special-purpose algorithm for the determination of the optimal solution. We then explained two different paradoxes that occur in this setting.

In a paper of ours published in the European Journal of Operational Research, the network optimization modeling framework was expanded to model Internet advertising competition in which multiple firms maximize their own ad effects within their limited marketing budgets. In that paper, we introduced an elastic Internet marketing budget in order to conjoin the online and offline marketing strategies. Consequently, the multifirm competitive equilibrium problem was modeled using game theoretic constructs as a Nash equilibrium with network structure.

Professor Lan Zhao is a Center Associate of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks that I direct, and she also consults for so our research results have immediate practical applications.

For reprints of various articles, conducted by researchers at the Virtual Center for Supernetworks please click here.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Business Profs that Make a Difference

I recently finished reading "Tuesdays with Morrie," by Mitch Albom, a book that I very much enjoyed. The book is filled with numerous memorable quotes attributed to Professor Morrie Schwartz, a former Professor at Brandeis University, on life, on living, and on education. Mitch Albom, who was a former student of his, captured in this wonderful book not only his deep affection and caring for this very special professor, but also the wisdom and love of life of this exceptional educator.

There was one part in the book, though, that I strongly disagreed with. Albom writes in the chapter, "The Professor, Part Two," that Morrie's classes at Brandeis were light on what you'd call "career skills" and heavy on "personal development."

And because of this, business and law students today might look at Morrie as foolishly naive about his contributions. How much money did the students go on to make? How many big-time cases did they win?

Then again, how many business or law students ever visit their old professors once they leave? Morrie's students did that all the time.

Albom, in his book, captured the essence of what makes a great teacher, and the book is a testament also to an exceptional writer as he takes the "final class" with his beloved professor through the final stages of his serious illness until his death.

As debates rage on regarding student evaluations of teachers at the college level, with Dr. Stanley Fish's provocative recent piece in The New York Times, as well as his followup with links to many thoughtful comments and responses, it is clear that the impact of a great teacher cannot be measured simply after the class and semester are over with a short questionnaire and evaluation form. Such a myopic but prevalent perspective may be convenient from an administrative point of view but does not measure true greatness in terms of instruction and lasting impact.

Those who were once students and who come back years and even decades after graduation to see a professor realize this, for sure.

In our local paper, the Daily Hampshire Gazette, there is a front page article today on one of my colleagues, Professor Richard "Dick" Simpson, who is an accounting professor at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst. Professor Simpson has been teaching for 42 years and his former students keep their accounting class notes for as long as thirty years. His remarkable influence on business education and on individual students has been recognized with numerous teaching awards.

One of Professor Simpson's present students, Carmelina Romano, who is a mother of two children (and who instead of bedtime stories read Professor Simpson's accounting class notes to her two young children) and was formerly homeless, was also featured in the article. She would bring her children to class, with his permission, studied about 20 hours a week for his class alone, and her 4 year old son would sometimes answer questions posed by Simpson in class to the fascination of the college students.

Ms. Romano wrote a letter nominating Simpson for the Mass Society of CPAs educator of the year and then hounded everyone who could possibly be involved with that decision to make sure that he received this honor.

Professor Simpson ended up receiving the Society's Career Achievement Award for Excellence in Accounting Education and stood with Romano when he got it.

So, business professors can make a difference!

When I returned from the ALIO-INFORMS conference, which took place in Argentina, 2 weeks ago, I found a business card under my office door. A former student of mine in the first class that I ever taught as a professor had left his business card under my door. He had been a student in my MBA class and was working very hard at a menial job to advance his education. To that class I brought my Brown University PhD diploma to show some students, who were mid-level managers, who doubted that I was a professor since I reminded them of their granddaughters.

The message on the business card said:

Dr. Nagurney:

It's been 25 years so I thought I would stop by and say hello!

Call me sometime.

This former student now has a top executive-level position with a major automobile company and his daughter will be matriculating at UMass in the Fall. I remember him just like yesterday. We will see each other in September.

FIFA President apologizes and goal-line technology

The FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, has apologized for the refereeing calls at the 2010 World Cup, and has acknowledged that both England and Mexico were shortchanged a goal each in their elimination games recently.

We, as spectators around the world, have also been stunned by what our eyes perceived to be erroneous calls by the referees even against the United States in two games.

The idea of goal-line technology is getting increasing credence according to The New York Times. Interestingly, before this World Cup started, Blatter was adamant against video replay — and other forms of in-game technology.

“We want to keep football as a game of the people with a human face, so we don’t want technology on the field of play because we want to maintain the spontaneity of football — played, administered and controlled by human beings,” Blatter said.

Now that the 2010 World Cup has identified the top 8 remaining teams, Blatter is now quoted in The Times as saying:

“It is obvious that after the experiences so far at this World Cup,” “it would be nonsense not to reopen the file on goal-line technology.”

At least he apologized and is willing to admit the (obvious) oversights by the referees in several games.

The damage has been done but Sepp Blatter had the courage to admit that errors were made. I wish that some heads of professional and even youth sports organizations would do the same.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Economics of Happiness and Optimization

Andrew Marszal writes in a recent Aol News Opinion Piece on the "Economics of Happiness" and reports on research and studies on this topic which, he notes, is "catching on" with the likes of the Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz (who I might add is an Amherst College grad) and with the French President Nicholas Sarkozy even getting involved.

According to a recent global survey, participants, when asked what is their most important goal in life, ranked "happiness" first, ahead of "'success," "knowledge" or even "material wealth." The
global survey is worth reading since it captures the psychological, economic, and social aspects of well-being in a very thoughtful writeup.

In his Opinion Piece, Marszal writes: Trust is strongly correlated to happiness and varies dramatically among societies. A recent World Values Survey, conducted by an international network of social scientists, found 64 percent of Norwegians responded "Yes, most people can be trusted," compared with just 5 percent of Brazilians. Of Americans, 56 percent held this opinion in the 1960s, but only 33 percent by 1998.

In addition, it is emphasized that family relationships and work are crucial, too.

In economics, as in operations research, the concepts of optimization and utility maximization, under constraints, are fundamental. What is emerging from the above noted studies (and more links to others can be found in the Opinion Piece) is that social networks, whether familial, community-based, or at work do matter and in significant ways. Social networks capture relationships and their evolution can serve as indicators of trust.

In a series of articles, we examined the impact of social networks on different networks, and introduced flows in social networks in the form of relationship levels. When relationship levels are higher, various costs are reduced (not only in a business sense but also, generally, in the form of transaction costs). Our research captured the effects of social networks and relationship levels on supply chain networks as well as on financial networks.

As Dr. Patricia Randall writes in Reflections on Operations Research, It will be interesting to see in the future how Operations Research and analytics can be applied to social networking problems and how these approaches differ from more “traditional” applications.

I strongly believe that much of the breakthroughs will come through the synergies of synthesizing, integrating, and expanding findings and perspectives from different disciplines from the social and behavioral sciences to computer science and operations research and the management sciences, as some of the leaders in social science and social computing are suggesting. As for the potential payoffs, what could be more rewarding than creating societies in which there is a greater level of trust and higher levels of "happiness?!"

Saturday, June 26, 2010

From the World Cup to the World Expo

After the painful loss today of the US soccer team to Ghana's at the World Cup in South Africa, resulting in the US team being eliminated, I thought that I would offer some distraction by posting the above photos taken at the World Expo which is now taking place in Shanghai, China.

But, first, I would like to congratulate the US soccer team and their coaches for their extraordinary efforts. You won the hearts of our country and we are tremendously proud of how well you played.

Congrats to Ghana for being the only African country left representing this continent at this stage of the World Cup.

The above photos were taken recently by relatives of a doctoral student of mine who visited the World Expo in Shanghai and I thank them for allowing me to share them with you. Several of my collaborators are now also in Shanghai and I hope that over the summer I will be able to post additional photos.

The first photo is of China's pavilion (and interestingly in yesterday's New York Times there was a two page photo spread and ad for this World Expo). The second one is especially lovely at night, I am told, and the color and images change. The third photo is of Estonia's pavilion. The fourth photo is of the World Exposition Museum. The fifth is an artwork with four monkeys, which is a symbol of families' happiness. The bottom photo is the Qatar pavilion.

Although China did not qualify for the World Cup I am hearing marvelous things about its World Expo.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Professor George L. Nemhauser and Sports Scheduling in The Chronicle of Higher Ed

The name of George L. Nemhauser is well-known (I should say renowned) in operations research.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a really nice writeup on Professor Nemhauser's work in sport scheduling and on his company. According to the article: His company, Sports Scheduling Group, now handles all scheduling for Major League Baseball and has worked with the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Mountain West, and other college leagues. Over the past few weeks, as conferences considered all kinds of changes, he fielded numerous calls from athletics officials wondering how their schedules might be affected by the addition of one or more programs.

George Nemhauser's paper, with Mike Trick, entitled, "Scheduling a Major College Basketball Conference," that appeared in one of our top journals, Operations Research, is a classic.

Earlier in this blog I wrote about the work of Professor Celso Ribeiro in soccer game scheduling in his home country of Brazil.

It is great that The Chronicle of Higher Ed recognizes the great contributions of our profession to applications in sports!

The full Chonicle of Higher Ed article can be accessed here

I have a special soft spot for Professor Nemhauser because, after my PhD dissertation advisor at Brown University, Stella Dafermos, received her PhD from Johns Hopkins, she moved to Cornell University and George was her mentor there. I also regularly cite his work with Trotter on column generation as applied to traffic network equilibrium algorithms for the solution of large-scale problems.

When Stella died, back in 1990, George was one of the first people that I called with the sad news and he was instrumental in having me write her obituary which appeared in Operations Research.

Portfolio optimization, risk management, and operations

As we see every day -- whether in business or in our personal and professional lives -- decision-making and its consequences, are fraught with risk. The risks may take on many forms from political risk to exchange rate risk and price volatility risk to environmental risk and disruption-based risk, as in disasters due to natural causes, accidents, or planned attacks, to name just a few. The world now is reeling from the BP Deep Horizon oil rig blowout, the most graphic, high impact recent environmental and economic disaster.

Risk management, hence, has evolved as a topic in its own right and is necessarily interdisciplinary because of its vital components, be they social, engineering-based, financial, natural, operational, etc.

In terms of business operations, firms may need to decide whether to outsource various economic activities associated with their supply chains or to continue business as usual. They may need to assess whether to merge or to acquire another firm, which may lie thousands of miles away. They may have to identify new partnerships or to shed older ones; to promote and hire new executives, or let others go. Should one build a new manufacturing plant and where? Should one bring to production a new product? Should one expand into new global markets? All such decisions must have embedded within them some measure of risk since we live in uncertain and very dynamic times.

The areas of finance and operations management (propitiously also the name of my department at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst) can bring much to both research in and the practice of risk management.

Last year I had the honor and pleasure of instructing a course on portfolio optimization in the Executive Education program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. The course covered the fundamentals of portfolio optimization and risk management and also discussed the importance of a network and systems perspective to financial management.

My course lecture notes can be accessed here

Today we are conducting research on global outsourcing and risk management as well as on supply chain network design and risk. Our recent studies on various supply chain network as well as financial network topics can be accessed here.

Without appropriate risk management and risk mitigation strategies our already fragile and vulnerable networks may not be sustainable.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The POMS blog

For all of you who are interested in keeping up-to-date on some of the major issues in production and operations management, please read the POMS blog, which is a blog hosted by the Production and Operations Management Society (POMS).

The POMS blog has recently gone live and it is a terrific way in which our students, graduates in Operations Management, faculty in OM and MS, and professionals in this important field can stay on top of very timely topics. My first contribution is on Green buildings, LEED, and energy efficiency.

As some of you may know, POMS is an international professional organization representing the interests of POM professionals from around the world. Its journal, Production and Operations Management, is among Business Week's top 20 business journals.

Special thanks to Dr. Christian Terwiesch, Professor of Operations and Information Management and Senior Fellow of the Leonard Davis Institute for Health Economics at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, for his vision in getting the POMS blog rolling!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Professors and the World Cup

Being a professor means that one has students, colleagues, and friends from around the world.

During the 2010 World Cup that is taking place now in South Africa there has been a lot of drama, unexpected victories, and unexpected losses.

I have heard recently from friends who are from Chile, The Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, Italy, China, Cape Verde, Ukraine, and other countries, all of whom are intently following the various games and upsets (as well as dubious calls by the refs, the incidents of good sportsmanship and the opposite, and all the various trials and tribulations and the associated drama).

As I had mentioned in an earlier blogpost, the 2010 World Cup began while I was at a conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

At the finals of the previous World Cup, in 2006, I was at a conference in glorious Erice in Italy and we watched Italy beat France and then this entire town, which is on the island of Sicily, erupted in celebrations and fireworks. Amazingly, the morning after, I flew back to Boston safely on Alitalia from Naples without incident and enjoyed a delicious meal on the plane.

During the World Cup in 2002, my family and I were living in Innsbruck, Austria, while I was on a Fulbright.

Above are photos taken in Erice during the finals back in 2006.

What a difference 4 years make in terms of World Cup play!

WORMS Award Call for Nominations

A former Operations Management student of mine, who had just received his degree from UMass Amherst in May 2010, contacted me recently that he had nominated me for an award for promoting diversity. I was very touched that he took the time to do this and told him so. Recognition from one's former students is one of the most appreciated of accolades that a professor can receive.

In the meantime, the following Call for Nominations has been sent out regarding the 2010 WORMS Award. The list of previous recipients of this award can be found here.

Professor Candi Yano of UC Berkeley is chairing this year's award committee. I had the honor and pleasure of chairing last year's committee. The information is below.


The Award for the Advancement of Women in OR/MS celebrates and recognizes a person who has contributed significantly to the advancement and recognition of women in the field of Operations Research and the Management Sciences (OR/MS). Each nominee will be considered based on his or her history of successfully promoting the professional development, success, and recognition of women in OR/MS. Nominees can have made contributions in multiple ways, such as primarily at their own institutions, through involvement in professional organizations, etc.

Examples of activities to be considered include, but are not limited to, the following: personal commitment and/or leadership with respect to increased hiring, retention, advancement, and recognition of women (students and faculty) in academia, industry, or government; leadership in encouraging, sponsoring, and/or developing professional training/development programs for women in OR/MS; creating an environment that supports womens' full participation and advancement in the field of OR/MS, possibly through mentoring, leadership, financial support, and/or personal investment of time.

Application process:

Nominations should include:

* Nominee's name, affiliation, address, telephone, fax, e-mail;

* A short (250-500 words) description of the nominee's overall contribution to the advancement of the careers of women in OR/MS;

* Description(s) of specific activities, programs, leadership;

* Statements of support from women in OR/MS and/or from organizations which observed or benefited from the nominee's activities;

* The nominee's resume and other items as appropriate.

All nominations must be submitted via e-mail to the Award Committee Chair, Candi Yano, by August 1, 2010.

One award (in the form of a plaque) will be given, if there is a suitable candidate. The award will be presented to the winner during the 2010 INFORMS National Meeting in Austin, Texas.

For questions, please contact the 2010 Award Committee Chair: Candace A. Yano Professor, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research and The Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley.

Postal Address:

IEOR Department, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1777
Phones: 510-643-9994 / 510-642-4992
Fax: 510-642-1403

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Thank You to Sweden

International conferences serve as a venue for scientific exchanges, reconnecting with colleagues from around the globe, and often bring back a flood of memories. I have written several posts on this blog about the ALIO-INFORMS conference, which took place recently in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The intensity of professional conferences, coupled with their fascinating locations, enrich one's professional and social networking experiences greatly.

At the Buenos Aires conference, one of my many highpoints was the international collaborations panel, sponsored by WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences), and organized by Professor Sadan Kulturel of Penn State Berks.

In preparing my presentation, it became clear how important it has been to my career to not only take active part in international conferences, but to also live abroad. Sweden, in particular, is a very special country to me since while living there I wrote two books, Financial Networks: Statics and Dynamics with Stavros Siokos, and Supernetworks: Decision-Making for the Information Age with June Dong.

The former book I wrote while I held a Distinguished Chaired Professorship at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden and the latter while I was a Visiting Professor there several years after. During the writing of both of these books, my family and I lived at the Wenner Gren Center on Sveavagen in Stockholm.

The Wenner Gren Center is an apartment complex for a community of 150 families from around the globe, consisting of researchers, scholars, and medical professionals. It borders the gorgeous Haga Park. While I worked at KTH, my husband held an appointment at the Department of Electrical Systems Construction in Kista, which is also part of KTH.

Our daughter was only 2 years old the first time we lived in Stockholm and we enrolled her in the local daycare. In her daycare group there were children from her age until 7 and the care that she received there was outstanding. The children spend tons of time outside (remember that the Swedes have a saying that there is no bad weather, only bad dress for the weather). They climb rocks and trees in neighboring parks (believe me this raised my anxiety level a bit, but I guess these are useful life skills), go on excursions, including to musems, play, and just thrive. The daycare cooks prepared meals that included salmon, carrots, and dilled potatoes; Swedish meatballs, and delicious soups, and every child's birthday was celebrated in a lavish way with ice cream and lit candles. (Coming back to the US and the local preschool was a bit of a shock to my almost 3 year old at the time, when she had to brown bag her lunch).

Several of the daycare providers spoke English and there was one child from Japan who also was living at the Wenner Gren Center in my daughter's group. A boy of 7 named Sebastian, who originally was from Colombia, took special care of my daughter and also would often greet me at the door when I would come to pick her up and would motion to me as to her whereabouts. We would run into the parents and children in Stockholm outside of daycare hours and that helped us to feel part of a larger community. We were even invited to the homes of several of our daughter's fellow "classmates" years afterwards.

Above I have posted photos of the Wenner Gren Center, Stockholm, and my daughter's former daycare in Sweden.

The New York Times recently had coverage about the excellent parental leave policies in Sweden (which we observed while living there) and fathers taking advantage of them in an article entitled, "In Sweden, Men Can Have it All." This blogpost was partially inspired by that terrific article (plus who could have missed the publicity surrounding Princess Victoria's wedding that took place in Stockholm yesterday).

Sweden, I thank you for creating a society and system in which those who live there (even if only for a few months) can better balance work and family!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

This Sunday, June 20, we honor fathers.

I would like to take a moment to thank all the fathers who are still with us and to remember also those fathers who are long gone for their numerous roles in support of their families and for all their sacrifices.

To those who have become fathers for the first time this year, a very special Happy Father's Day to you! The same to our servicemen who cannot be with their families on Father's Day.

As for a truly special father, please read about Mr. Jim Brozina.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Free iphone app for the Gulf rescue of oiled birds and animals

After listening to the President's speech on the biggest oil disaster in US history with immense negative environmental and economic consequences and even psychological ones, I was heartened to hear that even thousands of miles away positive, constructive action was being taken through an iphone app that was developed by my colleagues in computer science, public policy, ecology and biology at UMass Amherst. The app enables the rescue of those most helpless and unfortunate and that is the birds and animals that are being covered in the oil spreading in the Gulf of Mexico.

The UMass Amherst researchers hope that the app, called MoGO, will draw on the large network of “citizen scientists” who are as heartbroken as they are to witness the disaster for marine life and who are actively looking for ways to help save wildlife along the 14,000 miles of northern Gulf coastline.

The new app allows anyone who finds an oiled animal to be linked automatically by the phone to the Wildlife Hotline and to provide photos of the stranded animal and its GPS location coordinates to a database here on campus.

Whether the project succeeds rests on how well the word gets out to the public in the Gulf region, the researchers note, so I am trying to do my part to disseminate this simple but powerful technical innovation to harness citizen scientists in saving the affected fauna. Any person, on land or at sea, wishing to use the free app for their iPhone can go to for more information.

According to the UMass press release:

The app takes advantage of “mobile crowdsourcing,” that is, the power of smart personal mobile devices to provide thousands of eyes and ears on the ground. Professor Ganesan who is a computer scientist at UMass Amherst and his research group designed a software framework called “mCrowd,” which simplifies the usual weeks- to months-long process of developing a new mobile crowdsourcing app. “It provides easy-to-use templates that can be tailored to a new application,” Ganesan explains. His mCrowd technology allowed the UMass Amherst team to create the MoGO app and infrastructure in a little more than a week.

Even Hillary Clinton was in Argentina

In honor of the great World Cup win by Argentina today against South Korea to the score of 4-1, I have posted the above photos that I took in Buenos Aires last week where I attended the ALIO-INFORMS conference.

In the top photo above is a nice note from Hillary Clinton who dined at the Cafe Tortoni in Buenos Aires, a cafe that we also had the pleasure of eating at last week. I also recommend La Biela in La Recoleta, a very historic part of Buenos Aires, whose charming waiters gave us many extra pieces of exquisite dark chocolate.

If you'd like to see more photos of Buenos Aires, please see my earlier blogposts. The New York Times has front page coverage today about the Argentine soccer coach, Maradona, and his team's star player, Messi. Maradona, who is considered one of the top former soccer players ever, has promised to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires should Argentina win the World Cup. He continues to coach his team at the World Cup matches dressed in a gray suit, which, as many have noticed (and despite the elegance of the people of Buenos Aires) does not fit him well.

Also, Professor Peter Lohmander of Umea, Sweden has kindly posted gorgeous photos that he took while at the same operations research conference in Buenos Aires . His photos may be accessed here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Operations and the Emergency Room

Who would have thought that I would be "listening" to the Celtics vs. Lakers 6th game of the NBA finals in an emergency room. As they say, most accidents happen close to home. After thousands of miles of travel recently to give talks in Hawaii and then in Argentina, with no injuries or illnesses, I tripped last night while taking an evening stroll and landed sidewise on the asphalt road with blood gushing out of my face.

My husband rushed me to UMass Amherst Health Services where no doctor was available and I was told to go to the emergency room (ER) at Cooley Dickinson hospital in Northampton, MA, despite my appeals to be at least looked at locally, but to no avail.

As anyone who has been to an ER can tell you, the experiences in such a setting are not exactly pleasant memories. As one who researches and teaches operations management and operations research / management science and specializes in network flows in systems, I am a stickler for efficiency and for improving processes from those in business and transportation and logistical systems to those in healthcare.

We arrived in the ER shortly before 9(cr)PM (and the TV in the waiting area was set to the Celtics vs. Lakers game). The folks in the waiting area looked pleasant enough and I thought that within an hour I would be "served" and released. After a while my vital stats were taken, I was given an ice pack to apply to my head, which soon got spotted with the red stuff. Then a new patient joined me in the waiting game who had just been in a barroom brawl and his friend had brought him in for treatment. His facial injures resembled mine, but, then again, his arms were covered with tattoos. He also got an ice pack to apply to his head.

I told my husband, who is the pinnacle of patience, that if I was not seen by a doctor by 11:30PM that I would just self-treat myself back at home and live with any scars that materialized.

At 11:25 PM, I was called in to the area where the patients are placed on beds. I was treated to a nicely warmed set of sheets, since I was freezing, and marveled at the activity there, so I asked where did all these patients come from? I was told that they arrived by ambulance and that (as we were waiting for hours in the waiting room) several of the cases, according to the doctors, were very complicated. (I had been asked earlier as to how severe my pain was, and believe that if I had been less of a martyr and had emphasized the acuity, I may have been treated earlier. Perhaps better service is also achieved by arriving in style via ambulance).

There is a "happy" ending to this experience. The doctor that treated me is Dr. Khama Ennis, who not only is a fellow alum of Brown University, but she trained in emergency room medicine under Dr. John Nagurney, at Mass General Hospital. This Dr. Nagurney is a relative of my husband's and is also an instructor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Ennis treated my daughter several years back on her only trip to the ER and we found all of these wonderful connections. Dr. Ennis' young daughter shares my birthday so talking and being treated by her this time around made the benefits almost outweigh all of the costs. One of her best friends lives in LA and is a big Lakers fan so she was awaiting a teasing text message on the Celtics loss.

Several years back, a group of my undergrad students in Operations Management in my FOMGT 341 class, Transportation & Logistics, did a project on patient flow in this specific hospital and on how to improve operational efficiencies. One of the students, Selena Kaplan, was a nurse, and another one, Maxfield Raynolds, had worked for me at the Virtual Center for Supernetworks at the Isenberg School (and went on to receive a 21st Century Leaders Award from UMass Amherst). Their project, along with Bria Gottschalck, can be accessed here.

Interestingly, my colleague, Professor Jim Orlin of the Sloan School at MIT, has written several posts on healthcare issues, from a personal perspective, including his experience with the ER at Mass General Hospital and has also highlighted the work of Professor Litvak of Boston University on hospital patient flow, whose work has been featured in The Boston Globe.

Hospitals are processing flow networks, with congestion, and patients as well as caretakers and medical professionals can all greatly benefit from optimization. This my undergrads figured out back in 2004 and, hopefully, optimization will be the paradigm for hospital networks. As patients, we care about user-optimization (just as drivers do in transportation networks) since we want to be processed from our arrival until discharge as promptly as possible. Healthcare and hospital administrators, on the other hand, may be focusing on system-optimization, that is, routing the flow so that the total cost in the system is minimized (in transport parlance, think of a controller routing the freight flows in an optimal manner from origins to destinations).

And, yes, to add insult to injury, as my previous updated blogspot stated, the Celtics lost to the Lakers last night.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Brazil vs. North Korea and Celtics vs. Lakers

********Update to the first story*************

Brazil beat North Korea 2-1 in the World Cup today
, which is probably a score that few would have predicted. The announcer stated that the red garbed "North Korean" fans in the stands were actually paid Chinese "actors."


**********And to the second********************

The Celtics lost to the Lakers last night and will play against them tomorrow, Thursday, June 17, 2010 in LA.

Professors are very "active" individuals with their teaching, research, and service.

Every once in a while, though, there comes a day, when just being a spectator, and the associated anticipation, bring special delights.

I have been following the World Cup, beginning with the first matches while I was in Argentina and since returning to Amherst, MA (where even high schoolers missing school to watch the World Cup games at restaurants made the front page of the local newspaper, much to the chagrin of their parents, I am sure. Plus, I was told that little work has been done in the local high school since the TVs are on to the World Cup games).

Today, will be a fascinating game between Brazil, the top-ranked team at the World Cup, and North Korea, the polar and very mysterious opposite, at 2:30PM ET. The excitement is palpable in Massachusetts and beyond and, in addition, tonight is the Celtics vs. Lakers basketball game in Los Angeles, with fans in eager anticipation. If the Celtics win tonight, they will have won this year's NBA championship.

So today, besides reviewing proposals and academic articles, and trying to catch some time to do some research, it will not be all "work" but also some spectating for the pure joy of sport!

As a faculty member at the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst, I am privileged to be part of a school that also houses one of the top Sports Management departments in the US, so, of course, any sports-related discussions are "work-related."

Monday, June 14, 2010

How to Give a Great Academic Talk

I do a lot of public speaking and I learn much from such experiences. I enjoy interacting with various audiences and the travel to exotic and interesting locations is an added bonus.

With so many conferences taking place in the summer, academics are busy doing research and presenting their work at conferences.

I received a message from one of my colleagues in computational economics, Bill Goffe, whom I last saw at the Computing in Economics and Finance Conference that took place in June 2008, in Paris, France. The message was about the best guide that he had ever seen on giving an academic talk and it is due to a computer science (CS) professor, Jonathan Shewchuk, at the University of California Berkeley.

Professor Shewchuk's advice, which is quite informative and very entertaining can be found at: . While written for a CS audience, it applies to economic talks and to operations research talks as well (although I do like to see some math and analysis displayed).

One of the many gems: A talk of 30 minutes or less should be an advertisement for the paper, not a replacement. Your goal is to convince your listeners that they must read your paper. While you might disagree with some points, it should make you think about how you make presentations. The link to a PowerPoint version of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (one of the most famous speeches ever given in the U.S.) is priceless according to Bill.

Another one of Shewchuk's suggestions:

"Nonverbal communication. An infamous study by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal, “Half a Minute: Predicting Teacher Evaluations From Thin Slices of Nonverbal Behavior and Physical Attractiveness,” shows that students can predict a teacher's ratings with significant accuracy after watching a 30-second silent video clip of the teacher at work. Resist the urge to attribute this to the superficiality of students' ratings. What is the nonverbal magic that an audience recognizes so quickly?" (Somehow this study also brings to mind the work of Alex Pentland at MIT and his fascinating book, Honest Signals.)

According to Shewchuk: "I believe they are seeing communication uncluttered by extraneous motion, facial expressions, fidgeting, utterances, and other nonverbal behaviors so subtle that the speaker is entirely unaware of doing them. Conversely, a faint, transient facial expression or a brief unconscious twitch of the arm are enough to rob a speaker's words of their force, and even break an audience's attention."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Greening of the Metropolis

On my flights back from the ALIO-INFORMS in Buenos Aires, Argentina I had the distinct pleasure of reading the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. There was a special segment in it on Clean Energy and an excellent article, "The Greening of the Metropolis." With cities being home to more than half of the world's population and generating more than two thirds of the world's carbon dioxide, greening of our megacities can make a significant difference in improving the environment.

I am hopeful. With the leadership of some of the biggest cities in the world taking proactive, creative steps to reduce emissions, much can be accomplished especially since regions and nations are failing to act.

Kudos to Los Angeles and its mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, for 1,700 miles of bike paths that are to be completed by 2015, complete with showers and bicycle storage areas.

Bravo to the mayor of Toronto, David Miller, who plans on investing over $1 billion in public transport and environmentally-friendly air-conditioning systems for buildings.

In Tokyo, where, amazingly, 68 percent of the trips are by bike, subway, or on foot, in April a cap and trade system was instituted for carbon dioxide that is city-wide. As for Houston, Texas, where an astonishing 95% of the trips are made by car, at least officials are getting electric cars to reduce emissions.

Robert Doyle, the Lord Mayor of one of my favorite cities, Melbourne, in Australia, plans to bar cars from downtown and to offer incentives for green investments.

Copenhagen, in Denmark, is spending over a billion and a half dollars on bike paths, green energy projects, and retrofitting city buildings.

Amsterdam's infrastructure is being improved to the tune of 1 billion dollars, with its 2,400 houseboats being retrofitted to use electricity instead of diesel.

New York City, one of my absolutely favorite cities, since I grew up in Yonkers, is moving forward with its PlaNYC, to make buildings more energy efficient, power plants more environmentally-friendly, and with tax breaks for the use of solar panels.

Having spent over a week recently in another megacity -- Buenos Aires, Argentina, with about 11 million people in the central and surrounding areas, I know that much needs to be done.

The architecture of this city is stunning as are the neighborhoods with unique identities, and the lively, warm people and culture.

However, the traffic is horrendous with the busses running frequently but on diesel and their evident fumes spewing and belching out. Not only do they emit toxic pollutants but the noise that they generate is substantial. As one former Argentine physics colleague of my husband's, dating back to our Brown University days, told us during a lovely 3 hour dinner in Buenos Aires: when the busses go on strike, the people notice how much cleaner the air gets and how much more peaceful the city is even with more cars! Ironically, in parts of the developing world, getting rid of public transit with aging engines may actually improve air quality.

A better approach (and our colleague told us that he expects that this may happen but it will take about 10 years), is for the city of Buenos Aires (where 1/3 of Argentina's population lives) to purchase busses with the latest green technologies and with quieter designs.

Above are photos taken from the 14th floor of the Etoile Hotel in Buenos Aires where we spent last week. In the photos one can see the famous La Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried and the Law School with the big columns, where the operations research conference that I attended and spoke at took place.

My talk at the ALIO-INFORMS conference was on "Sustainable Supply Chain Network Design: A Multicriteria Perspective" and it certainly hit "close to home." The paper is available here and the pdf of the presentation is here.

The Dogs and their Walkers in Argentina

Travel is always eye-opening and opens one's eyes as a travel guide never can.

Having returned from a stay in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I attended a professional conference, I continue to be amazed at the number of dogs and their walkers that we encountered.

The above photos were taken in Buenos Aires during the past week.

The last photo above is of a dog named Rubio, who lives in the area of Buenos Aires known as La Recoleta, where we stayed at the Etoile hotel. The restaurant goers and waiters at the numerous outdoor cafes keep Rubio well-fed and quite content.

We have been told that the dogwalkers can walk up to 12 dogs at a time. As in North America, the golden retrievers and the chocolate labs love to play with tennis balls.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The World Cup has begun and Argentina

Yesterday, I was still in Buenos Aires, Argentina, spending 1 day touring after the ALIO-INFORMS conference. The city was filled with the Argentine flag and numerous decorations to commemorate the first day of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While dining and getting ready to head for the airport to catch a flight back to Dulles and then to Bradley, I caught glimpses of the South Africa vs. Mexico game (score 1-1) and the France vs. Uruguay game (score 0-0) plus some of the opening ceremonies prior.

There are numerous large TV screens in Buenos Aires so that people can watch the World Cup soccer matches.

After a very comfortable flight on United from Buenos Aires to Dulles of about 10 and a half hours but a less than comfortable processing at immigration and security at Dulles with long queues and some sort of strange call for a meeting at 7:00AM for the customs and immigration workers, we just made it to our last flight from Dulles early this morning.

While unpacking, back in Amherst, we caught parts of the Argentina vs. Nigeria game in which Argentina won 1-0 with Maradona as its soccer team's coach.

Above are some photos taken in Buenos Aires, Argentina during the past week marking the World Cup festivities. I am sure that the country is celebrating with its victory in the World Cup today.

The sport of football/fusbol/soccer brings the world together during the World Cup, which takes place this year from June 11-July 11, 2010, in a terrific display of athleticism, cameraderie, appreciation of other cultures, and just pure fun!

At the ALIO-INFORMS conference in Buenos Aires, I very much enjoyed Dr. Celso Ribeiro's plenary talk on how his research was applied to construct the schedules for Brazil's soccer teams, with great success. I especially enjoyed listening to the importance of "fairness" in the schedule and how such constraints were incorporated into the optimization model.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Faces at INFORMS Conference in Buenos Aires

Today was the first day that I could catch my breath since arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina last Saturday to attend the ALIO-INFORMS conference. The conference was a whirlwind experience with about 1,000 conferees in attendance and just over 100 from the US. Giving a talk, taking part in a panel on international collaborations, plus attending an editorial board meeting, and giving a tutorial on Fragile Networks, still left me some time to attend both plenary talks and keynote talks as well as another tutorial (besides my own).

What a colleague said to me yesterday, I agree with -- in addition to the scientific exchanges that take place at an international conference, what makes such events so special is the people that you meet from colleagues from around the world that you get to see again and to reconnect with to new friends that are made.

Above are some photos taken at some of the above conference events that I mentioned earlier.

More photos and reflections can be found in several of my earlier blogposts.

The atmosphere in Buenos Aires, with the beautiful pale blue sky and the fascinating architecture and boulevards, plus the fantastic food and elegant people (and numerous dogs and dogwalkers), all make for a truly unique and special conference venue.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Magic of Buenos Aires

The ALIO INFORMS conference that attracted operations researchers from around the world has come to an end. The organizers should be congratulated for an excellent conference. I will be writing additional blog posts about the conference but, in the meantime, in addition to the previously posted photos on this blog from Buenos Aires, Argentina I share some addtional ones with you above.