Sunday, November 14, 2010


The national INFORMS meeting in Austin is in the rear-view mirror now (and I'm staring at the DSI meeting in San Diego next week -- no rest for the wicked!), so like most of the other bloggers there I feel obligated to make some (in my case random) observations about it.  In no specific order ...
  • The session chaired by Laura McLay on social networking was pretty interesting, particularly as we got an extra guest panelist (Mike Trick joined Anna Nagurney, Aurelie Thiele and Wayne Winston, along with Laura) at no extra charge. Arguably the most interesting thing from my perspective was the unstated assumption that those of us with blogs would actually have something insightful to say. I generally don't, which is one reason I hesitated for a long time about starting a blog. 
  • On the subject of blogs, shout-out to Bjarni Kristjansson of Maximal Software, who more or less badgered me into writing one at last year's meeting. Bjarni, be careful what you wish for! :-)  It took me some digging to find Bjarni's blog (or at least one of them). Now if only I could read Icelandic ...
  • I got to meet a few familiar names (Tallys Yunes, Samik Raychaudhuri ) from OR-Exchange and the blogosphere.
  • Thanks to those (including some above) who've added my blog to their blogrolls.  The number of OR-related blogs is growing pretty quickly, but with growth come scaling issues. In particular, I wonder if we should be looking for a way to provide guidance to potential readers who might be overwhelmed with the number of blogs to consider. I randomly sample some as I come across them, but if I don't see anything that piques my interest in a couple or so posts I'm liable to forget them and move on, and perhaps I'm missing something valuable. This blog, for instance, is mostly quantitative (math programming) stuff, but with an occasional rant or fluff piece (such as this entry).  I wonder if we could somehow publish a master blog roll with an associated tag cloud for each blog, to help clarify which blogs contain which sorts of content.
Getting off the social network tram for a bit ...
  • A consistent bug up my butt about INFORMS meetings is their use of time. Specifically, the A sessions run 0800 to 0930, followed by coffee from 0930 to 1000. There is then an hour that seems to be underutilized (although I think some plenaries and other special sessions occur then -- I'm not sure, as I'm not big on attending plenary talks). The B sessions run 1100 to 1230 and the C sessions run 1330 to 1500. So we have an hour of what my OM colleagues call "inserted slack" after the first coffee break, but only one hour to get out of the convention center, find some lunch and get back. It would be nice if the inserted slack and the B session could be flipped, allowing more time for lunch. My guess is that the current schedule exists either to funnel people into plenaries (who might otherwise opt for an extended lunch break) or to funnel them into the exhibits (or both).
  • We're a large meeting, so we usually need to be in a conference center (the D.C. meeting being an exception). That means we're usually in a business district, where restaurants that rely on office workers for patronage often close on Sundays (D.C. and San Diego again being exceptions). Those restaurants that are open on Sunday seem to be caught by surprise when thousands of starving geeks descend en masse, pretty much all with a 1230 - 1330 lunch hour. For a society that embraces predictive analytics, we're not doing a very good job of communicating those predictions to the local restaurants. (Could INFORMS maybe hire a wiener wagon for Sundays?)
  • The layout of the Austin convention center struck me as a bit screwy even without the construction. For non-attendees, to get from the third floor to the fourth floor you had to take an escalator to the first floor (sidebar: the escalator did not stop at the second floor), walk most of the length of the facility, go outside and walk the rest of the length, go back inside and take an escalator to the fourth floor (sidebar: this escalator did not stop at either of the two intervening floors). Someone missed an opportunity to apply the Floyd-Warshall algorithm and embed shortest routes between all nodes in the map we got.
  • The sessions I attended ranged from fairly interesting to very interesting, so I have absolutely no complaints about that. I also had good luck networking with people I wanted to see while I was there. Since sessions and networking are my two main reasons for attending a conference (my own presentation ranks a distant third), it was well worth the trip.
The conference, like all its predecessors, allowed me to collect some new observations that add to the empirical evidence supporting my theories of Geek Physics (which depart from classical Newtonian physics in a few regards). In particular:
  • A geek in motion will come to rest at the location that maximizes interdiction of other traffic (particularly purposeful traffic).
  • A geek at rest will remain at rest until someone bearing a cup of coffee enters their detection range, at which point they will sharply accelerate on an optimized collision course.
  • A geek entering or exiting a session in progress will allow the door to slam shut behind them with probability approaching 1.0. (Since I have no empirical evidence that geeks are hard of hearing, I attribute this to a very shallow learning curve for things outside the geek's immediate discipline, but I'm having trouble collecting sufficiently specific data to test that hypothesis.)
If anyone has observed other laws of Geek Physics that I'm missing, I'd be interested in hearing them.

Enough about the conference, at least for now. It was interesting, I enjoyed interacting with some people I otherwise only see online, and I brought home a bunch of notes I'll need to sort through. I'm looking forward to next year's meeting.


  1. "I wonder if we could somehow publish a master blog roll with an associated tag cloud for each blog, to help clarify which blogs contain which sorts of content."

    I could not agree more, I actually tried to express this need in a previous comment to your blog.

    And yes the time schedule at INFORMS is IMHO hopeless, the days get way too long due to slack.

  2. @Bo: Blogger lets authors tag blogs with what amounts to keywords. I assume WordPress etc. do the same. Do you think there's any way to scrape the tags from blog posts and compile a database of them? Mike Trick recently pointed to tag cloud software (or a tag cloud generator site; I'm not sure which).

  3. First of all I am no expert in this area, so forgive me if we talk about different things. I would like some sort of catalog/tags over OR blogs, so I easily can find what is interesting or not. Due to the different blog sites, I think the only way would be by RSS feeds. I look a bit around and found :

    Try the demo in left side, also zoom in on intervals, that is pretty cool.

    It seem to do pretty much what I need. If one could set up such a server for OR that would be very interesting.

  4. Upps just saw :

    "Update: I’ve stopped active development on FeedVis. It was a learning project, and after spending some time trying to do some refactoring, I’ve decided that it’s just too ugly to fix."

    Well I guess there must be similar software out there.

  5. Well,the source code for FeedViz could probably be used as a starting point if someone wanted to roll their own (and assuming there isn't already a suitable product out there).

    Bjarni Kristjansson is heading up a committee for INFORMS that apparently will look at some nontrivial IT initiatives. I'm going to run this past him as a suggestion. If it can be done on the cheap, perhaps INFORMS would be willing to host it.

  6. Another law of Geek Physics: a geek's propensity to wear a name tag is inversely proportional to how necessary a name tag is at the geek's current location.

  7. @Tallys: Thanks, I need to add that one to my list. First thing I do exiting the convention center is remove my name tag -- I look like enough of a geek without advertising the fact.


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