Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Happy White Thanksgiving and Operations Research

For many in the US, Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday during which we celebrate history, give thanks, surrounded by family and friends and nourished by delicious food from the turkey and all the trimmings to sumptious desserts.

The 2014 Thanksgiving in the northeastern US will be especially memorable due to the snowstorm that hit with travel disrupted from planes to road travel and with many in our area of western Massachusetts and beyond without electric power.

I took the photos below this morning because the sun was shining and I had to venture out to see the white landscape that was beckoning to me.
Thanksgiving, with  all the planning, the travel, the cooking, and even the seating of the guests, not to mention what do to with leftovers, if there are any, is the "optimal" holiday for operations researchers at which we get to put all of our analytical tools into practice. For example, as the students in my Transportation & Logistics class know, one has to try an determine an optimal time for departure for the trip home given forecasts for traffic and associated delays. This past Tuesday there was a 60 mile backup on the MA turnpike from Logan Airport to Sturbridge as the Google map below shows (luckily, most of my students were headed east).

As for the plane flight cancellations and delays, the scenario was right out of one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles.

The planning and execution of the cooking of the big Thanksgiving meal is a perfect exercise in project planning, with the network tool of Critical Path analysis being especially useful. One needs to identify all the activities, construct the network project model, and then identify the time (longest path) for the completion of all the activities. This is so useful! Of course, the goal is to make sure that everything is completed just in time for the arrival of the guests!

Moreover, one of my former colleagues, rest his soul, Professor Joe Balintfy was an expert in food management science and menu planning, and his parties left a standard that I aspire to.

One previous Thanksgiving, at which we hosted a group of my Management Science doctoral students at the Isenberg School and their families, the weather was so warm, that after indulging in all the food we went out to play outside to burn off some of the calories!

With best wishes to everyone for a wonderful Thanksgiving!

In New England we are resilient and, as readers of my blog know, we have endured a once in a 500 years flood, a freaky Halloween snowstorm, and more!