Thursday, December 31, 2009

The finale -- Happy New Year!

The above treats were sampled and shared recently at the "finale" restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts with a friend who was visiting from Hong Kong.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cancer, Traffic Jams, and the Braess Paradox

The article, "Old Ideas Spur New Approaches in Cancer Fight," in today's New York Times is a MUST-READ! In it, a reference is made to an article published in The Lancet in 1962, and written by Dr. Smithers, with the quote: Cancer is no more a disease of cells than a traffic jam is a disease of cars, Dr. Smithers wrote: A lifetime of study of the internal combustion engine would not help anyone understand our traffic problems.

The article goes on to demonstrate how results in "old" research papers are starting to ring true. Fascinatingly, the Times article begins with a female researcher, Mina Bissell, recalling how one of her research papers on the genesis of cancer was heaved into a waste basket by a prominent scientist twenty years ago. Her thesis: gene mutations are part of the process of cancer, but mutations alone are not enough. Cancer involves interaction between rogue cells and surrounding tissue.

The above statement reminds me of a traffic network with individual cells or drivers in cars competing for resources from the supply of the infrastructure.

Interestingly, several years back I heard from a group of medical researchers who were intrigued by possible analogies between the Braess paradox and cancer-targeted therapies. The therapies were not working out as expected and it seems that the concepts fom transportation networks of user-optimization vs. system-optimization might be relevant.

In fact, I included a note on this in the presentation that I gave as a Science Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University that year and mentioned it in my talk and discussion. A few weeks ago, I heard, once again, from one of the medical researchers who also sent me several articles from the biological/medical/oncological scientific literatures.

As I tell my students, acquire as much knowledge as you can in your studies, since you never know when you may be applying different tools and methodologies in your future work. Interestingly, last June, while on the Traffic panel at the World Science Festival, the organizers had the prescience of convening a biologist (Iain Couzin of Princeton University), an operations researcher/economist/network scientist (yours truly of UMass Amherst), and an architect (Mitchell Joachim of Columbia University) to discuss traffic and its solutions!

I will be reading the materials forwarded to me by the medical researchers carefully and hope that what is old and even from other disciplines can shed new light and insights into one of the most challenging medical issues of modern times -- cancer and its cures.

If you would like to learn more about networks and their fascinating applications, please listen to the podcast interview with me by Barry List made possible by INFORMS.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter 2010 Newsletter -- Students and Colleagues Soaring

It's the time of the year when family members, friends, and colleagues send out cards and newsletters, which are always a treat to read and allow the reader to catch up. It is fascinating to see what is included in the writeups.

As we look forward to the New 2010 Year, I am pleased to share with you the new edition of the The Supernetwork Sentinel, which is the newsletter of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks.

This newsletter captures some of the wonderful activities of our Center Associates, who include students, academics, and leaders in industry.

You can access the latest edition and previous ones here.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Bridge Will be Torn Down and a Gorgeous Old House Was, Too

I have been writing this blog about infrastructure, networks, research, and education since I began the RENeW blog in January 2009. The blog was initiated for two reasons: 1. because I had been approached by a good number of people to start one and 2. I was finishing writing the Fragile Networks book with Patrick Qiang and blogging was a way in which to get news out and to also inform. Being an educator means keeping ties to students, even after they graduate, and to numerous colleagues and interested individuals, and this means of communication seems especially timely.

Throughout this semester, while teaching my undergrad transportation & logistics class, the students and I discussed associated events as they were occurring in the real world, from the closure of the San Francisco Bay bridge to the closure of the Lake Champlain bridge, along with the engineering, economic, and business consequences. We talked about passengers who were stranded on airport tarmacs for hours on planes before their release. We talked and learned about transportation modes and their variants around the globe. We came to truly appreciate the importance of transportation and logistics as networks that tie us all.

These and other stories continue as we near the New Year with President Obama passing a regulation that airlines on national flights cannot keep passengers on planes on the tarmac for longer than three hours without large financial penalties. Ah, the math modeling possibilities that now present themselves and colleagues in transportation and operations research have been recently quoted in the press on the associated scheduling and rescheduling issues and possible ramifications! However, all of my "stuck on the tarmac for 4 hours" stories have involved international flights so I guess I am not off the hook.

At the same time, we are reading about passengers being trapped in the Eurochunnel for hours with the Eurostar train shutting operation for days because of, supposedly, "unusually powdery snow entering the engines." In addition, due to a power failure yesterday, Amtrak had to shut train operation in parts of the Northeast yesterday for hours (during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year). Nevertheless, another theme for one of my blog posts was that of Boeing's production problems, which, for the time being, seem to have been now resolved, with the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner recently soaring over Washington state (2 years late but at least it can get up and fly now) . This is a fascinating case study on outsourcing and what happened.

The New York Times is now reporting in this NY Times Bridge Article that the Lake Champlain bridge that joins Vermont with New York State will not be repaired but rather will be imploded next Monday! The article demonstrates the huge impact on the communities from, first, the closure of this bridge last October and now with the heart-breaking news that this bridge will be destroyed. A lifeline for citizens is lost as well as an elegant (but one which needed lots of repairs) structure. I wrote about the closure of this bridge in a letter to the editor that was published in the Boston Globe last month.

Last March we traveled to Austria, since I was invited to give a seminar at the Vienna University of Business and Economics. We landed first in Innsbruck, where we spent a few days since we wanted to reconnect and see friends and townfolks that we had interacted with back in 2002 while I held a Distinguished Chaired Fulbright at the University of Innsbruck. During our 4 month stay in Innsbruck we lived in the house featured above in the first photo, which was owned by a professor at the university. The address was 94 Schneeburgasse. We had heard that the house had been sold and condos had replaced this magical villa with views of the Alps and the 1964 Olympics ski jump.

We wandered to see our former neighbors on Schneeburgasse last March and were welcomed with hugs. Above I also include the photo of the condo complex that replaced the villa (with several of the units not filled).

Let's take great care when we destroy the old. Beauty in design and function should be preserved also for its living history.

Now, we will have to just make do with some photos and incredible memories -- the same holds for those whose lives have been forever changed because of the removal of the Champlain bridge.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sharing, Giving, and Enjoying the Wonders of Every Season

This decade is coming to a close and it certainly has been a tumultuous one.

In an era of Facebook and Twitter it is time to reflect on what really matters and to make sense of it all in a week in which one had to attend both funeral wakes and holiday parties.

Last night, my daughter asked me to view the movie, "The Gods Must be Crazy," with her. She had seen it at the Bement School from which she had graduated last Spring and wanted to see it again, perhaps to try and make sense of so much that seems to be unexplainable these days. We laughed and laughed during the movie, especially during the hysterical transportation and vehicle parts. At the end, after a tense climax, the world seems well again through the simplicity of family life and community. The setting of the movie is Africa.

Last winter, my daughter and her ninth grade classmates from the Bement School, along with several of their teachers and a medical staff person, traveled to the Dominican Republic to help out at the La Suiza orphanage for a week. The orphanage is home to about 40 boys. The experience was profound for all those that took part and the students came to understand the importance of giving and sharing.

Last week, my daughter received a phone call from a journalist from our local newspaper asking her what inspired her to give to the Toy Fund. The interviews with her and another teenager appear in today's Daily Hampshire Gazette. Her name is misspelled but the lasting impact of helping out and the experience in the Dominican Republic linger. She is now a student at the Deerfield Academy, which also has a tradition of community service both in neighboring communities and abroad.

As for trying to make sense of it all, let me recommend a book of poems by Professor Frederick C. Tillis, which arrived at our door with a very special inscription. The name of the book is Beginning again and I find it very fitting as we start a new decade.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Calling American Students Lazy is Hurtful

In the meantime, I have heard from Dr. Dennis Hanno, the undergraduate dean at Babson. Dr. Hanno was a former colleague of mine at the Isenberg School of Management, and also a former neighbor in Amherst. He is an amazing individual, educator, and administrator. I urge you to read the commentary on his blog regarding the recent OpEd piece in the Boston Globe that I wrote about below. I am adding this link today (December 24, 2009) due to the uproar created by the OpEd piece. Please read Dean Hanno's commentary here.

In today's Boston Globe there is an OpEd piece written by Kara Miller, who teaches at Babson College. The article is entitled, "My lazy American students," and the author writes how she prefers having students from other countries in her classes since she feels that they have a much better work ethic, despite their, perhaps, poorer English.

I found this OpEd piece painful to read and insulting to all the hard-working students, American or international ones. This past semester was not easy with the H1N1 pandemic, with many families losing jobs and income because of the recession, among other additional stressors on both students and faculty alike.

I would like to counter the arguments in that article and say, in contrast, my students at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst were terrific this past semester. They showed up to do their presentations despite a big snowstorm. They showed up at their final exam besides it being dark and cold outside (and the heat was up to 80 degrees for some reason in the exam classroom). ALL of my students handed in their presentations on time and the students in my undergraduate class at the Isenberg School of Management were some of the best and the most hard-working ones I have ever had the privilege to teach.

American students are terrific as are the international ones! Interestingly, in my undergraduate class this term I had only one international student (from Hong Kong) whereas in my graduate class I had only one American student with all others being international ones.

As I have heard it said before "Apples don't fall far from the tree." Faculty serve as role models and are as much at fault if the students don't do well as the students are themselves. Honestly, if you can't say something nice perhaps it's best to let it be left unsaid.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Learn More About Innovation and Scientific Research in South Africa and Beyond, the Smart Grid, Vaccines, Robust Optimization, and Supply Disruptions!

In the Northeast we have had a major snowstorm and it is a winter wonderland! The course grades have been submitted and before we catch our breaths, it gives me great pleasure to announce the Spring 2010 UMass Amherst Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science. Please be sure to mark your calendars and to join us,if you can. This series is now in its 12th semester of continuous operation and is open to the public. All talks take place at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst on scheduled Fridays in Room 112 from 11AM until noon.

I can share testimonials of audience members who have written to me and who have taken the time to thank me regarding our past speakers. Let it suffice to say that when undergraduates, grad students, faculty, and those from industry who have come to hear our speakers say that on Fridays when there is no speaker they are so disappointed -- that is the greatest praise. Speakers not only educate but inspire and open our eyes to new perspectives.

The Spring 2010 lineup will begin with a presentation on February 19, 2010 by Professor Mzamo Mangaliso of the Isenberg School on scientific innovation and research with experiences in South Africa. Professor Mangaliso served as the President of South Africa's counterpart of the US National Science Foundation and this talk is certainly going to be fascinating and very informative.

On March 5, 2010, we will be hosting Mr. Richard Brooks of ISO - New England, who will be speaking on the development of the smart grid, a topic not only timely but extremely relevant to consumers and businesses.

On April 2, 2010, Professor Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois will be sharing with us his research on pediatric vaccines, their pricing and stockpiling issues. Professor Jacobson's visit is co-sponsored through the INFORMS Speakers Bureau. For more information on INFORMS, and its elegant new website, please click here.

Professor Dimitris Bertsimas of the Sloan School at MIT will be speaking on April 23, 2010. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has garnered numerous awards for his research. He will be speaking on robust optimization. His talk is co-hosted by the Finance Seminar Series at the Isenberg School.

On April 30, 2010, Professor Mehmet Gumus of McGill University in Montreal, Canada will be presenting his research on supply disruptions and selection of optimal suppliers.

We may also have an additional speaker on March 26, 2010, from abroad, but are waiting for final confirmation.

Full information on the titles, abstracts, and short bios of the above speakers is now available on the Speaker Series website.

As one departmental chair from outside the Isenberg School said to me, this speaker series is not only educational, but we are also providing a community service -- the talks in this series are not to be missed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Two Blows at the Same Hospital and One Day Apart

The sad and shocking news arrived yesterday. A colleague in my department who also held a chaired professorship and had been on our faculty at the Isenberg School of Management for seven years passed away at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston this past Monday. He had been battling a very serious illness and had been working to the end. In fact, one of his doctoral students had defended his dissertation proposal the same day that the advisor passed away (but another faculty member stepped in). Also, my colleague had just edited a volume on healthcare. He left a wife and two doctoral students and research discoveries yet to be made.

In today's local newspaper, a front page story captured another tragic death. A neighbor of ours in Amherst who a few days ago was hurt by a basketball stand in the face, had had surgery, and was recovering at Brigham and Women's hospital. He died unexpectedly last Sunday morning, at age 42. He left a wife and two young children and a community trying to understand what happened.

Shocking deaths of two men, each a leader in his own way, dying a hundred miles away from home at the same hospital hours apart.

I remember, like yesterday, the death of my doctoral dissertation advisor at Brown University, Dr. Stella Dafermos, who died at age 49 (I received the phone call while I was a Visiting Scholar at the Sloan School). Dafermos was working with a doctoral student at the time of her death, Georgia Perakis, who, ultimately, completed her PhD under the magnificent guidance of Professor Tom Magnanti of MIT. Professor Perakis has now been promoted to Full Professor at the Sloan School of MIT and Professor Magnanti, the former dean of Engineering at MIT, has accepted the Presidency of the new university in Singapore.

As someone wrote in a condolence tribute online to the family of my deceased neighbor, it is the quality of your life that matters and not the quantity (although lucky were such greats as the Nobel Laureate Paul Samuelson, who lived fully until age 94 (and was the subject of my previous post), and Professor George Dantzig, the father of operations research, who died at age 90 a few years ago).

My sincerest condolences to the families, colleagues, and friends of those who have passed on during what should be a celebratory holiday season.

One must keep one's spirits up, though, for the students!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Professor Paul Samuelson -- Rest in Peace and Reflections

The news just arrived that Professor Paul Samuelson, the Nobel Laureate, and Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, has passed away at the age of 94. This obituary highlights some of his immense achievements, from being the first winner of the Bates Medal to being the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Professor Samuelson was still writing and publishing in his 90s.

I remember meeting Professor Samuelson in person while I was a Visiting Scholar at the Sloan School at MIT. I had corresponded with him and had been sending him some of my papers since I was doing (and still am) work in spatial economics. His 1952 paper, "Spatial Price Equilibrium and Linear Programming," published in the American Economic Review, I have cited dozens of time. I especially appreciated his ability to use and apply the appropriate methodological techniques for model formulation and analysis in economics. Also, that paper even identified the beautiful bipartite network structure of this classical problem.

One of my favorite reminiscences of Paul Samuelson was riding in the elevator with him at the Sloan School and we would also meet up in either the first floor snack shop or on the top floor dining room at which I (and those who visited me) enjoyed both the buffet lunch and the great views of the Charles River. Professor Samuelson was always well-dressed with one of his bowties on and although he was a giant in scholarship, height-wise, I could look him in the eyes. One day, as we were riding the elevator together he said to me, "Anna, have you proven any good theorems lately?" and that statement still resides with me.

Coincidentally (and life is filled with coincidences, it seems), yesterday, I was in Cambridge, in Harvard Square (Harvard is where Samuelson received his PhD and his nephew is the former President of Harvard, Larry Summers). A great friend of mine, Professor Kei May Lau, was visiting from Hong Kong. She had given, the day before, a seminar at MIT and I could not miss up the opportunity to see her and to reminisce. Little did we know then that we would be hearing about Harvard and MIT again today through the death of Paul Samuelson.

Above I have included a photo taken yesterday in Cambridge, which, somehow to me, captures something special. I include it as a small memorial to Professor Paul Samuelson, to his brilliance, and to his legacy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Massachusetts Board of Higher Education Report and the Isenberg School of Management

This week, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education released a report by the Commissioner's Advisory Group on Undergraduate Education, which was charged with developing a cogent list of essential cross-cutting knowledge areas and skills that all students, regardless of major, should acquire during their undergraduate careers. Special emphasis in the months that preceded this report was placed on paying attention to the voices of employers and the citizenry. One of the 14 members of the group that prepared the report was Ray Stata, the Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of the high tech company, Analog Devices. The report has excellent recommendations and, given that the end of an incredibly busy (but very satisfying academic semester) is now approaching, I thought that it would be appropriate to highlight some of the recommendations. The focus is on public higher education but the recommendations are universal, in my opinion.

Also, I think that we are doing some things very right in the Isenberg School of Management, which includes the Operations Management undergrad program that I am closely affiliated with.

The report noted that, first and foremost, college graduates must master both disciplinary and interdisciplinary content and intellectual skills and identified three categories of student learning outcomes: college level fundamentals, integrative thinking, and civic, organizational, and career competencies.

In the first category, written and oral communication is stressed (wonderful), quantitative skills (way to go!), technological/information science facility (fantastic), and knowledge of the physical and natural worlds, human cultures, and knowledge integration across disciplines (terrific!).

In the second category, the following skills are identified: critical thinking and informed decision-making (sounds like my field of operations research / management science), creativity and innovation (I always try to stimulate research questions and ideas from my students), problem solving (this is what I and my students do while we are awake), and another true passion of mine -- systems thinking!

As for the third category, I highlight the noted skills: personal responsibility, civic and social responsibility, and teamwork/collaboration skills. These are all experiences that we try to have our students obtain in their course projects (as well as in their numerous extracurricular activities) at the Isenberg School of Managememt.

I congratulate this Advisory Group for an outstanding report! I suspect that having a technology leader such as Ray Stata in this group helped to produce this truly excellent report.

As promised in an earlier blog post, I leave you with a link to some of the student project presentations that my students in the undergrad transportation & logistics class gave this past week, including last Wednesday during a major snowfall -- all the presenters showed up in the morning, despite the snow (with some being trapped on a bus until the plows came through, with numerous accidents en route, etc.). Look at the project presentations, learn, and rejoice. I applaud the students.

As for the Stata name, I gave a talk at a workshop at MIT a year ago in the Stata building, which is an architectural wonder and is featured above, and last spring I sat in a middle seat en route to Frankfurt via Lufthansa, with a VP from Analog Devices on one side of me and an administrator from Harvard's executive education programs on the other side -- perfect seat-mates!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What a Day for Transportation -- Projects and a Prize!

I had just gotten off the phone with my former student, Dr. Patrick Qiang, shortly before 6PM last night since he was getting ready to teach his graduate class, when the email message arrived from Washington DC. The message stated that the sender could not reach Patrick and that she had some very good news, which she also shared with me. I told her that I would transmit the message to Patrick although I knew that he was teaching at that very moment. Propitiously, it was student project time, and he read the news on his laptop -- his dissertation was selected to receive the Charles V. Wootan Award from the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC) at a banquet in DC on January 9, 2010!

Needless to say, as the Chair of Patrick's dissertation committee at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I was simply thrilled with this news and so honored and pleased to have his hard work and research recognized in this truly significant way with a national award.

The title of Dr. Qiang’s dissertation was: "Network Efficiency / Performance Measurement with Vulnerability and Robustness Analysis with Application to Critical Infrastructure." The other committee members were: Professor Ana Muriel of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at UMass Amherst, Professor Sanjay Nawalka of the Department of Finance and Operations Management at the Isenberg School, and Professor June Dong of the School of Business at SUNY Oswego.

Dr. Qiang will receive the $2,000 award at the CUTC banquet to be held in Washington DC on January 9, 2010. He was notified of his selection for the award by Robert H. Plymale, President of the Council of University Transportation Centers, and Laura Spitz, the Member Services Program Manager of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association in Washington DC. CUTC was founded in 1979 by major transportation research centers and institutes in the United States. It serves as a forum for the universities and centers to interact with government and industry. Its members number over 70 of the nation’s premier university-based transportation research and education programs.

That is how my great Transportation Day ended and it began with four team project presentations in my undergrad transportation & logistics class at UMass Amherst. The undergrad student team projects that were presented yesterday were on the following topics (and they were simply terrific):

1. Smart Grids -- this project discusses the challenges with electric power generation and distribution and what problems the smart grid with associated technologies should help to overcome. It also relates this network applicationto the transportation network models discussed in the course. This project also describes the role that ISO -- New England plays in terms of reliability for power in New England.

2. Dubai -- this project discusses traffic congestion in this very unusual city and what is being done in terms of transportation planning and development from infrastructure development and enhancements, such as the new driverless metro to automated toll and fare collections to better integration of existing modes with new modes. It also discusses the impact of the economic crisis on Dubai and Dubai World. The project also highlights the use of hybrids for taxi services and the design of maritime routes for freight transport to/from the various man-made islands.

3. The San Francisco Bay bridge -- this project traces the history of the bridge, which is one of the most widely used in the US (close to 300,000 vehicles per day, when it is open). It also highlights certain dramatic closures of the bridge (such as due to the 1989 earthquake) and the most recent one, which occurred this past Fall, with 5,000 pounds of metal falling during the evening commute. The project describes the impact of the 6 day closure because of the structural failure and the impacts of ongoing repairs to the bridge, which include, interestingly, moving necessary parts for reconstruction by barge.

4. Obama's stimulus plan and effects on transportation infrastructure in MA -- this project lays out what are identifiable so-called improvements -- from road improvements, to bicycle lane additions and changes, to ferry port construction. The students did a massive investigation of transportation projects in the state and concluded that, in effect, except for some shovel-ready projects, some of which were "on the books" for about a decade, the results are disappointing.

Tomorrow, five more team project presentations will take place. The projects to be presented tomorrow include:

5. Calcutta traffic and what can be done about it -- Calcutta is the economic hub of east India. It is also the 8th largest city in the world and accommodates 15 million people. The transport system is a mix that includes mass transport and the old modalities such as rickshaws. The project will discuss the numerous problems, including the lack of traffic discipline, regular traffic jams, etc., and what can be done to reduce some of the congestion.

6. Traffic around UMass Amherst -- this project will use the network and will estimate the user travel time functions to determine the estimated travel times and optimal routes of travel. The most congested links will be determined based on different levels of travel demand.

7. The Sagamore bridge, repairs, and impacts -- this project is by a team that includes a student from Cape Cod with direct interest in this topic.

8. Gibraltar and different modes of transport, including air travel to this unique destination.

(There is 1 more presentation scheduled but I don't have my notes on it).

I will be posting this year's projects in a few days on the Virtual Center for Supernetworks website.

As for office hours, a former student, who is now in industry in Connecticut, drove up to surprise me and we chatted for about an hour. In the conversation, he mentioned the book, "Traffic," by Tom Vanderbilt, which I gave to all of the students in my last year's transportation and logistics class (it was smaller than this year's class and my chaired funds could afford it then). He had heard an interview with Vanderbilt recently and was thrilled that he had his terrific book.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Professor Levine on Cyber Forensics -- What a Talk!

Yesterday, we had the enormous pleasure and educational experience of hearing Professor Brian Levine of the Computer Science Department at UMass Amherst speak on cyber forensics. I, personally, sat at the edge of my seat and took copious notes because the clarity of his presentation and the topic were brilliant. His talk attracted a large audience of faculty, staff, undergrads and grad students and even administrators. Professor Levine considers himself a person responsible for applying science to law and especially computer science in gathering evidence.

He asked such interesting questions and brought up such timely topics and observations that the discussions continued for hours afterwards.

For example, What does it mean to have good network evidence? How to demonstrate intent when it comes to criminal activities that are gleaned from cyber forensics? How do you pick whom to investigate? Who is it that you want to catch?

We learned about the differences between cyber forensics, cyber security, privacy, and cyber intelligence.

We learned about the challenges that law enforcement agencies face in the various application domains, including cyber ones. For example, in order to gather evidence (without a warrant) law enforcement can only use publicly available technology (and they had gotten caught awhile back using infrared cameras before they were publicly available and that evidence could not be used).

We learned about the guid (global unique identifier), dynamic IP addresses, cryptographic hash, and even SODDI (some other dude did it). As Professor Levine mentioned in his lecture yesterday, computer scientists love acronyms. The software tool that he and his team have developed is called ROUNDUP and it has been applied in both Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and has been successful in identifying perpetrators in these jurisdictions.

Professor Levine also discussed his latest research, which he calls "active tagging" and which was inspired by his work tagging turtles, which got a lot of publicity.

Lo and behold, one of my doctoral students after the talk and lunch that followed surprised us with a hardcopy of The Collegian, the UMass Amherst student newspaper, which carried, the day before, a front page article on Dr. Levine's talk, complete with a photo, and a nice mention of our Speaker Series. You can find the extracted article here.

What an ending to a fabulous set of speakers this Fall! I felt as though I was living an episode of CSI Amherst.

Thank you all so much!!! Special thanks also to the officers of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter and its members, who help in the organization of this very special series.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Logistics and Transportation 341, Last Lecture, and Surge in Afghanistan

This week I gave my last lecture of the semester in my undergraduate Transportation and Logistics course, FOMGT 341, and next week the students will be presenting their team projects, which I am very much looking forward to listening to. Each year there is a different theme that the students seem to resonate towards as to their projects, which they select to work on and to report on. As Charles Darwin said it well, It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

This year a clear predominant theme that has emerged that has captured the students' interest and imagination is the fragility of the network infrastructure, especially that of transportation.

Today, CNN is reporting on Logistical Problems Could Plague Afghanistan Troop Surge, and the article is featured in CNN Politics. I have extracted several quotes from the article, which I highlight below and these quotes are powerful (and frightening enough) that I will not editorialize on them. It is clear that without appropriate infrastructure and planning for logistics and transportation networks, no enterprise, be it corporate or military (as we know in the discipline of operations research going back to World War II), will likely be successful.

The authors of the CNN article, Hornick, Lawrence, and Pleitgen state in regards to the new surge:

A lot of it is going to be dictated by conditions on the ground: Can they build the new bases, the new roads, new infrastructure to handle the influx of troops? They proceed to discuss the many obstacles: A lack of paved roads outside the largest cities are easy places... to place roadside bombs... In addition, the main way to move troops and supplies around the country is by helicopter. The country is landlocked, and no navigable waterways lead to the ocean.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quoted in the article, said in mid-November:

It's not going to be a brigade a month, because of the infrastructure piece.

Air Force Sergeant Nicholas Caldwell is building a new road at Camp Wolverine and says, We [are] working hard and doing as much as we can. It would be nice if we could get some help.

Recall that this is the second surge, with soldiers saying that in the first surge it took months for supplies to catch up with them.

There are concerns as to where to even house the soldiers, especially given the extremes of temperatures in that part of the world in winters and summers. Clearly, as the article also recognizes, under the tight schedule not only will roads and new housing and dining facilities be necessary but also more medical facilities, more supplies, including fuel, as well as electricity.

I write books for many reasons. Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World perhaps should be used as a textbook to educate regarding the above, before it is too late.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

E-Cycling, Top Cited Papers, Electric Cars, and Copenhagen

With the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen next week, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of our environmental research at the Virtual Center for Supernetworks. Several years back my research team received two AT&T Industrial Ecology Fellowships, which supported the environmental research at the Supernetwork Center and provided partial financial support for three graduate students. These three graduate students have since all received their PhDs and now hold, respectively, tenure-track faculty positions at the University of Connecticut, the University of Sydney in Australia, and York University in Canada. You can find the recent doctoral dissertation titles and abstracts associated with the Center here.

One of the publications that resulted from the AT&T Industrial Ecology Fellowships, is a top cited paper in the journal, Transportation Research E (see above), entitled, Reverse Supply Chain Management and Electronic Waste Recycling: A Multitiered Network Equilibrium Framework for E-Cycling, which was co-authored with one of my former students, Dr. Fuminori Toyasaki. Elsevier, the publisher of this journal, puts out a ranking on a weekly basis of the top cited papers (published in the journal in the last five years) and the above paper has been on this list for months now.

Interestingly, the New York Times yesterday ran a front page article, In Denmark, Ambitious Plans for Electric Cars, which spoke about the partnership of the Silicon Valley company, Better Place, founded by Mr. Agassi, with Dong Energy, a smart grid company, to install and try to make feasible battery-charging stations in Denmark, specifically, Copenhagen, for charging electric cars. Denmark is providing at least $40,000 in tax writeoffs per electric car purchased and Dong Energy plans on generating a substantial portion of the electricity for the stations through wind energy. Denmark is even offering free parking to owners of electric cars in Copenhagen and I suspect that finding a parking place may not be too difficult since an earlier Times article stated that 50% of the commuters in Copenhagen commute by bicycle!

As yesterday's article noted, it will be interesting to see how many consumers can overcome any psychological barriers to the use of electric cars and being dependent on battery charging stations.

The article, however, neglected to mention the life cycle aspects of electric car batteries and the impact on the environment of their production and ultimate death and disposal.

Nevertheless, Denmark, as well as the above-mentioned companies, should be applauded for their ability to take risks and to innovate in the environmental space.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Did She or Didn't She?

In my post yesterday, I wrote about serving on a doctoral dissertation committee for a student in New Zealand and yesterday was her dissertation defense. It was an interesting experience doing the oral defense and examination via videoconference (but this certainly reduced the carbon footprint).

The student, her dissertation advisor, and the other committee members I could see on the screen in the room set up for videoconferencing at the Isenberg School of Management. They were all seated in a room at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Given the time difference, we scheduled the dissertation oral defense at 3PM Eastern Standard time and her advisor, Professor Matthias Ehrgott, was caught in traffic so he was a bit late.

The technology worked, although it did seem to be getting a bit tired after the majority of the questions were asked and answered.

The student successfully passed the defense, so congratulations to Ms. Andrea Raith, a new female PhD! Her dissertation is entitled: Multiobjective Routing and Transportation Problems. I especially enjoyed her novel applications to bicycling and route choice optimization using travel time and travel safety as criteria as well as her work on the bi-objective traffic assignment problem. In addition, she identified several errors in the published literature (which the referees had not caught) and also managed to correct several of the errors. As I said during the defense yesterday, I had not refereed those papers.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Supply Chains and Serving on International Dissertations

I came across a very interesting dissertation on music supply chains that was successfully defended for a Masters degree recently in Bergen, Norway at NHH. The dissertation, written by Brandeis Bellamy, is entitled: How Has the Changing Demand for Downloadable Music Influenced the Strategic Business Models of Firms? and it can be accessed here. I thought to myself, what a fascinating application of supply chains and a topic that anyone (and especially college students) can relate to. I couldn't help but read the dissertation and was really surprised and pleased to see that my Supply Chain Network Economics book was cited in it. I wrote this book while I was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard in 2005-2006. Coincidentally, Elaine Chew, who is an outstanding pianist and an operations researcher, who studies music from a mathematics perspective, was a Fellow at Radcliffe in 2007-2008, and we had the pleasure of having her speak at the Isenberg School in our INFORMS Speaker Series that Fall.

While reading the dissertation from NHH in Bergen, I so fondly recalled a doctoral dissertation that I was an examiner for, which involved travel to Bergen in northern Norway in the month of March. Bergen was magical with crocuses blooming and the defense is a very formal affair there with a reception afterwards (the student passed with glowing colors) and an elegant banquet. The defense was my second trip to Bergen. I had been there earlier for a NATO Scientific conference, after which we took the 7 hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo with spectacular views.

Tomorrow, I will be an oral examiner (sounds as though I am a dentist) for a doctoral dissertation in Auckland, New Zealand. I will not be flying out (would have to be on a plane already, if that were the case) but will be videoconferencing. The videoconferencing technology we used to stream my lecture last May to UC Davis. Tomorrow we will be using it for a doctoral defense. I am keeping my fingers crossed that everything works out.

The last time I was in Auckland, New Zealand was in January 2008 and the trip included being stuck at LAX on the tarmac in the plane for 4 hours in a fierce rainstorm before we took off for Auckland. The pain and suffering associated with this trip were compensated by the fantastic conference on Multicriteria Decision-Making and the conference talks, tours, and festivities.

Above I share with you some photos of Auckland, New Zealand.

It's never dull being an academic!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Cookies and Operations Research

It's the season of baking and what could be more fun before the end of the semester projects, presentations, and finals than to explore one's creativity in other ways. Once Thanksgiving is over and the turkey is fully digested, my daughter and I begin our holiday tradition of baking cookies for neighbors. This is quite the logistical operation, since we like to always include our tried and true recipes as well as to explore new ones. This year's cookie plates include: coconut chocolate-dipped macaroons, pecan shortbread logs, almond cookies with cherries, shortbread cookies, walnut rumballs, and what we call stained glass cookies (in star formation above), which are my daughter's specialty.

The baking is great fun, as well as the wrapping, but the most fun is when my daughter delivers them door to door (always determining the most efficient route first and identifying when the neighbors are likely to be home). Since she listened (without choice) to my graduate lectures on operations research and management science while in utero she is a natural when it comes to organization and efficiency. Plus, as a child of faculty members, she does tend to absorb the material that we can't help but discuss.

Plates of holiday cookies are a small way in which we acknowledge our terrific neighbors.

As for the family larder, we will have to bake again to replenish the cookie supplies.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Forensic Investigation of the Internet and Mobile Systems -- Last Lecture in the Fall 2009 Series in Operations Research

We are delighted that Dr. Brian Levine of the UMass Amherst Computer Science Department will be delivering his lecture, Forensic Investigation of the Internet and Mobile Systems, this coming Friday at the Isenberg School of Management. With this lecture we conclude our 2009 Fall Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science.

We have a terrific lineup for Spring 2010 and I hope that many of you will be able to join us. The announcement will be out soon.

Below is the announcement on Professor Levine's talk that was prepared by the award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter that I serve as the Faculty Advisor of.


The last INFORMS Speaker Seminar of the Fall 2009 semester is scheduled for the next Friday, December 4, 2009. We are delighted to have Professor Brian Levine, Department of Computer Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, who will speak on "Forensic Investigation of the Internet and Mobile Systems."

Dr. Levine joined the UMass Computer Science faculty in Fall 1999 and is currently an associate professor. His research focuses on mobile networks, privacy and forensics, and the Internet, and he has published more than 60 papers on these topics. Much of his work is based experiments using a unique mobile network testbed, DieselNet, which is comprised of computer-equipped PVTA buses and a network of mesh APs in downtown Amherst. Brian's active funding
includes awards from the National Science Foundation NETS, GENI, Trustworthy Computing, and SFS programs, DARPA's Disruption Tolerant Networking program, and the National Institute of Justice's Electronic Crime program. He received a CAREER award in 2002 for work in peer-to-peer networking, one of NSF's most prestigious awards for new faculty. He was a UMass Lilly Teaching Fellow in 2003 and was awarded his college's Outstanding Teacher Award in 2007. In 2008, he received the Alumni Award for Excellence in Science & Technology from his undergraduate alma mater, the State University of New York at Albany. He has served as an associate editor of IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking since 2005, and is the co-founder of the ACM Northeast Digital Forensics Exchange Workshop.

He received his PhD in Computer Engineering from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1999.

TITLE: Forensic Investigation of the Internet and Mobile Systems

Abstract: The strong impact of computing has revolutionized certain types of crime. Dissemination of data to peers is efficient because of the Internet, and criminals have de facto anonymity from exploiting open wireless access points. Mobile devices are extending the reach and character of the Internet and its relevance to crime. Fortunately, the use or even possession of computers by those that commit many crimes will typically result in digital evidence, and
investigations of murder, contraband trafficking, identity and intellectual property theft, fraud, and espionage have shown.

In this talk, I review our current research projects in digital forensics that seek to address investigation of these crimes or other violations. First, I will focus on the wired Internet and our work investigating peer-to-peer file sharing networks, which support trafficking in contraband and the exploitation of children. The problem faced in these investigations is not discovering those who commit such crimes. The tools we have developed for P2P investigations are in
everyday use by MA and PA State Police and has resulted in evidence of tens of thousands of users sharing such data. The challenge for investigators is instead deciding which of these myriad leads to follow up on next. P2P networks should be viewed as a massive data set representing the dynamic exchange of resources between users. And the most productive next investigation is the user that is selected based on an analysis past network activity. For example, who is often
source of new content on the network? Who is a trove of existing data? Ideally, these network characteristics can be linked to real criminological behaviors.

Date: Friday, December 4, 2009
Time: 11:00AM - Noon
Place: Room ISOM 112

The Announcement for this talk can be found at:

INFORMS Student Chapter website:

UMASS Amherst Student Chapter of INFORMS

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank you to the Great Teachers!

As families and friends begin to gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a moment to thank the teachers, from the preschool and elementary school ones, to the high school and college and university-based ones. Great teaching requires inspiration, dedication, enthusiasm, spirit, knowledge, stamina, humor, kindness, always showing up and being there, and love of teaching and the students. Great teachers teach through their knowledge of the material, their support of the students, numerous examples, hard work and feedback, and high standards and expectations. They make learning fun and have students take pride in their work. Great teachers have consciences and don't take the easy route -- they continue to raise the bar and see the joy in the students' eyes when the students "get the material."

Great teachers also teach outside their classrooms through mentorship, the creation of opportunities, and life-long connections.

How many times have I been told by former students that many of their happiest times and memories come from their days as students!

Thank you, Great Teachers!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Podcast and Reconnecting

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Barry List, the Communications Director of INFORMS, while at the INFORMS Annual Conference in San Diego last month for a podcast on transportation networks and beyond and the podcast is now available here.

Getting feedback and messages regarding the podcast has been quite interesting and fun. Today, for example, I received an email from a student who is now getting his Masters in Operations Research at the London School of Economics (LSE) who had enjoyed my podcast. While an undergrad at a college in Boston he had attended the Brown University SUMS (Symposium for Undergraduates in the Mathematical Sciences) in March 2007 when I was the featured speaker representing operations research. I spoke on Operations Research and the Captivating Study of Networks. He had enjoyed the topic so much that he visited me at UMass Amherst the following fall to discuss his interests in this discipline.

Needless to say, I was delighted to hear from him today and to learn that he had matriculated as a graduate student in Operations Research at LSE!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

SAS and Evidence-based Decision-Making and Analytics in the New York Times

Today's NY Times has a feature article on the software powerhouse, SAS, which is based in Cary, North Carolina. The article traces its history and founding by Mr. Goodnight and three colleagues from North Carolina State University in 1976 and highlights how, even today, SAS allocates 22% of the company's substantial revenue to research and development. The article has links to SAS's gorgeous campus, which includes a pool, a daycare and preschool for employees' children, on-site medical care, and more! Of the 100 largest companies in the world, 92 use SAS software.

However, SAS is now being threatened by such major corporations as IBM, which is investing billions of dollars in what is being called business intelligence software, for predictive modeling and analytics, which enhances evidence-based decision-making. With the tremendous increase in data availability through the Internet and sensors, companies are now increasingly understanding the huge untapped potential of operations research tools and statistical models and methods.

The environment at SAS has fostered creativity but the competition is growing and SAS will be having to readjust to significant outside competitive pressures. The article discusses how SAS's leadership is planning on handling these new challenges.

One of my former doctoral students, Dr. Padma Ramanujam, whose dissertation that I chaired, entitled, Transportation Network Policy Modeling for Congestion and Pollution Control: A Variational Inequality Approach, which received the 1999 dissertation prize of the (then-called) Transportation Science Section of INFORMS, is an employee of SAS. Dr. Ramanujam is also a Center Associate of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks that I am the Founding Director of. Dr. Ramanujam, after receiving her PhD with a concentration in Management Science from the Isenberg School at UMass Amherst, joined I2 Technologies in Richardson, Texas, and then moved on to SAS.

SAS has had a very supportive environment for females and I would like to single out the work of Dr. Radhika Kulkarni of SAS, who received the 2006 WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Award of INFORMS. A year later, she chaired the same award committee when I was the recipient of the 2007 WORMS Award. We had a chance to reflect on the careers of females in technical industries and to also reflect on the nurturance of female doctorates. Some photos from the award ceremonies and festivities can be found here.

In conversations with Dr. Kulkarni of SAS, so many wonderful memories came flooding back, including those surrounding the writing of the Environmental Networks book with two of my female PhD students, Padma Ramanujam and Kanwalroop "Kathy" Dhanda. How many technical books are there out there authored by three (or more females) I wonder?!

Looking at the photo of the pool on the New York Times website that accompanied the article on SAS, I was reminded of the corporate positions that I held after receiving my two undergrad degrees from Brown University (and while pursuing my Master's degree from Brown). The positions were in high tech, defense consulting and I was based on Aquidneck Island (Newport and Middletown) in Rhode Island. The intensity of the software research and development work was balanced by runs and marathon training with views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Congrats to companies that realize that simply sitting at a computer is not where the best ideas come from!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sam Bowles Spoke in our Operations Research Series

Professor Sam Bowles spoke to a standing room only crowd in our 2009 Fall UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series yesterday at the Isenberg School of Management. The title of his presentation was: The Nature of Wealth and the Dynamics of Inequality from Pre-history to the Knowledge-based Economy. His lecture, which was brilliant, was based on the research behind his co-authored paper in Science, just hot-off-the press, entitled, Intergenerational Wealth Transmission and the Dynamics of Inequality in Small-Scale Societies. The Science article had a commentary by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Foundations of Societal Inequality. Acemoglu of MIT had opened up our Fall 2008 Speaker Series last year.

Professor Sam Bowles received his PhD in economics from Harvard and his teacher was the Nobel laureate Simon Kusnetz, of whom he spoke very fondly of. Bowles was moved to work on inequality while a child living in India while his father was the US ambassador to India (he subsequently returned to this position years afterward). Sam Bowles' great-grandfather (of the same name) was the abolitionist editor of the Springfield Republican, and a friend of the Amherst poet, Emily Dickinson. In fact, last week the Bowles family had been honored at a banquet put on by the Republican (I communicated with the present publisher, Larry McDermott, this morning).

Professor Bowles began his lecture by saying that he was very pleased to be speaking in an operations research seminar series because he enjoyed learning about and applying linear programming, going back to the 1960s. Indeed, in the lunch that followed his presentation we were treated even to his recollections about his travel to Cuba in 1969 to advise the Ministry of Sugar on transportation problems, using, yes, linear programming models in which there were capacities on the links. I found an interview with Sam Bowles in the Harvard Crimson that was published in 1969 after his return from Cuba.

In his lecture yesterday, he graphically (with numerous images of animals, humans, and landscapes from around the world) and mathematically (through an elegant dynamic model for which a long-run steady-state could be determined) explained the variation in inequality in different societies through the extent in which the most important forms of wealth are transmitted within families across generations. The types of wealth considered: material, embodied, and relational (which he illustrated with different network topologies).

The captivating lecture ended with a quote from the Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow (who I have had the privilege of meeting while at a workshop at Stanford University) on information, which he then related to a quote from Karl Marx. A discussion followed on whether patents are needed and how intellectual discoveries and innovations should be priced.

Professor Bowles told us at lunch, afterwards, that he gets up at 4AM (which I am sure motivated the students who heard this) because of his passion for the research and problems that he is working on.

After Professor Bowles' lecture, we will all be seeing the world with new eyes. We thank him profusely for speaking to the undergrads, grad students, faculty, and visitors, that represent numerous disciplines (management science and operations research, engineering, computer science, economics, resource economics, organizational studies, marketing, finance, and others), who came to his talk yesterday.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Air Traffic Snarled Due to Single Point Failure

Thanksgiving is approaching with its heavy travel via planes, trains, and automobiles and what happens one week prior?! A single failure of a circuit board in the FAA's air transportation communications system snarled air travel yesterday. The full story can be found here. It took hours to fix and flight plans had to be entered manually in the meantime, resulting in numerous cancellations and delays throughout the US.

In the article, Professor Michael Ball of the University of Maryland is quoted. Ball is a long-time member of INFORMS and a fellow transportation colleague with whom I have had the pleasure of associating with through the Transportation Science & Logistics Society of INFORMS. The society's most recent newsletter can be accessed here.

Ball's quote: A good communications system system should have enough redundancy that a failure shouldn't hurt it that badly. Here we go again -- a single point failure with major disruptions in a network. This is another example of supernetworks -- a failure in communications affecting transportation.

The Federal Aviation Administration has struggled for years to modernize air traffic control and its associated systems. Coincidentally, while I was completing my PhD at Brown University with a specialty in operations research, I was interviewing with consulting companies, high tech companies, and academic institutions. I had received, interestingly, an offer from the MITRE Corporation in the Virginia area to work on the FAA's air traffic control system. I did not accept the offer (but it was so tempting) even though I was interviewed by a fellow Brown grad (who is now at IBM) Dr. Igor Frolow. Now there are again calls for more funds to fix the problems with the FAA. It's not a simple issue of increased financial funds, but, rather, of thorough planning and appropriate resilient and robust network design.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Letter from Al Gore and Trains for Warren Buffett

Teaching my transportation & logistics class is always an incredible experience! Today, I shared with my students the New York Times OpEd piece by Bob Herbert, What the Future May Hold, in which he writes: We're trundling along in the infrastructure equivalent of a jalopy, with bridges rotting and falling down, while other nations, our competitors in the global economy, are building efficient, high-speed, high-performance infrastructure platforms to power their 21st-century economies. Herbert then proceeds to imagine an America with rebuilt and healthy metropolitan areas, efficient rail and electric power networks, coupled with world-class public schools. He cites both a Brookings study and Rohatyn's recent book, Bold Endeavors, with the opening sentence: The nation is falling apart -- literally.

The themes of our Fragile Networks book focus not only on identifying the vulnerabilities of our infrastructure through the prism of transportation and logistical networks but also how to identify potential synergies through cooperation, through teaming and wise sharing of resources, and even through mergers and acquisitions. Patrick Qiang and I show in our book how to also compute a priori potential environmental synergies by capturing the underlying network structure of firms involved in mergers and/or acquisitions.

Today's New York Times also has an article on the environmental costs associated with air travel (which I also shared with my students) in which is stated that the average British commuter while commuting by rail, bus, or car in a full year would emit LESS than a single air traveler flying from London to Los Angeles! Research is now being conducted (and some terrific work is being done right here at UMass Amherst) to develop alternative fuels even using algae, that would drastically reduce the carbon imprint of air travel. The article emphasizes that the effect of carbon offsets at the present prices on emission-reduction is esssentially null (but travelers' guilt might be reduced and that is about it).

Mr. Dickenson, of the nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project, says that he is now taking trains, flying less, and trying to conduct more meetings via phone or teleconference. The article ends with a comment about Warren Buffett's recent investment in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. Indeed, what does it say when the world's most successful investor, Warren Buffett, is now purchasing more railroad companies?!

As Buffett has joked, This is all happening because my father didn't buy me a train as a kid. Buffett gets the importance of trains for the movement of goods in the United States of America and how environmental impacts can be reduced through mode switching from trucks to trains. By the way, as I told my students today, CSX has a very cool carbon emission calculator for determining the environmental costs associated with moving freight from different origins to destinations via rail.

In honor of Warren Buffett's vision, I have featured a photo above of some trains (toy, obviously) from my husband's collection.

I have also included a photo of the letter that I received from then Vice-President Al Gore commenting on my book, Sustainable Transportation Networks, and thanking me for it, when it was published. The letter is hanging in my Isenberg School of Management office for my students to see.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

US Wins the Supercomputer Race!

In a study officially released, the US Cray computer, known as Jaguar, is rated the top supercomputer in the world, based on processing speed. The article Science-based US Supercomputer Fastest in the World details how the Jaguar, which is located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, was rated the top supercomputer out of the Top500. Professor Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee is the co-author of this study, which benchmarks the fastest supercomputers in the world. Professor Dongarra is also the long-serving editor of the International Journal of High Performance Computing Applications, on whose editorial board I serve as well. The article quotes the head of the National Science Foundation, Dr. Arden Bement, who well-understands the significance of high performance computing to solving grand challenge problems.

The Jaguar was actually the beneficiary of stimulus funds and it is used to formulate and simulate energy-related problems. It is fantastic news that the US now leads the world in supercomputing speed!

The third fastest supercomputer is based at the University of Tennessee, so this is great news for that university. By the way, the new Chancellor of UMass Amherst, Dr. Robert Holub, was the former Provost of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

A few years back, I had a wonderful collaboration with Dr. Frank Southworth, then of Oak Ridge National Labs, who is now at Georgia Tech. Our paper, with several co-authors, was published in Environment & Planning B and looked at complex supply chains from a multilevel perspective.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Forbes gets the Math -- Genius Problem Solving via Blogs and Community Intelligence

Forbes has a terrific article on problem-solving via blogs, specifically featuring the math blog of Professor Terence Tao of UCLA. Professor Tao is both a Fields medalist and a MacArthur Fellow and he poses math problems on his blog (as well as lectures and other interesting material). The article in Forbes discusses how through what I would consider collective or community intelligence a problem in mathematics was solved through blog postings and discussions. A paper has actually been generated as a result and more information is available on Professor Tao's website.

There have been interesting discussions even by economists about solving problems and generating research papers in this manner with some economists stating that they are actually selfish and rather than standing on the shoulders of giants want to be considered giants themselves.

We are finding that our research on knowledge supernetworks (done with Tina Wakolbinger) and that we even presented as a tutorial in London (during one of the few thunderstorms that London has ever experienced) is being used now to construct frameworks in community intelligence. The paper was published in the Proceedings of the IEEE Conference on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics last year and can be accessed here.

Given the number of truly important problems that need solution, the harnessing of collective and collaborative approaches for solution can save time, and can generate answers, which are sorely needed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

International Education Week and Fulbrights

This week we are celebrating International Education Week and our atrium is decorated with flags from around the world. The timing is perfect since tomorrow we will be helping to host a delegation from China that is exploring the establishment of a partnership with our doctoral program at the Isenberg School of Management. Travel and study abroad enriches all the participants and is one of the highlights of education.

One of the best examples of international programs is the Fulbright program, which has been in existence for decades. In 2002, I had the unique opportunity to hold a Distinguished Chaired Fulbright at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and an essay on my experiences appears on the page. I have also captured, through photos, some of the magic of living and working in Austria while on this Fulbright.

My more recent Fulbright experience took place in March, 2008, when I was a Senior Specialist in Business Administration at the University of Catania, Italy. A webpage to capture the workshop and educational experiences was created and is available here.

Tomorrow I will also be meeting with the head of an organization that works in humanitarian logistics and who has done a lot of relief work related to transportation in Africa.

Let us all celebrate diversity!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Train Wreck Averted -- Professor Sam Bowles to Speak Next Friday

Train Wreck Averted -- that was the subject line of a message I received from Professor Sam Bowles this past week with another one titled Miracle. Professor Sam Bowles was scheduled to speak in our Speaker Series next Friday, November 20, 2009, at the Isenberg School of Management. However (and I sometimes feel like I work in crisis management), he had been called to jury duty and it looked as though it would be impossible for him to be let off from this civic duty.

This is the eleventh semester that we have been hosting our Speaker Series and as the Faculty Advisor of the award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, we have never, to-date, had to cancel or reschedule a speaker (although there have been dramatic close calls).

Somehow, through the magic of electronic templates (and despite what the jury contact person told Professor Bowles), he managed to reschedule his jury duty, so, the good news (and miracle) -- Professor Sam Bowles' talk is on for next Friday!

The students do such a wonderful job of disseminating news about these talks, that below I share the announcement that went out today. This will be another fascinating and thought-provoking lecture, which is open to the public. I just finished reading Professor Bowles' "hot-off-the-press" co-authored article in Science, and the accompanying commentary, and his talk should not be missed.

Dear Professors, Members, and Students:

The next INFORMS Speaker Seminar of the Fall 2009 semester is scheduled for next Friday, November 20, 2009. We are delighted to have Professor Sam Bowles, University of Massachusetts (Emeritus), Sante Fe Institute and the University of Siena, Italy, who will speak on "The Nature of Wealth and the Dynamics of Inequality from Pre-history to the Knowledge-based Economy."

Dr. Samuel Bowles is Research Professor at the Santa Fe Institute where he heads the Behavioral Sciences Program. He is also the Professor of Economics at the University of Siena. He taught economics at Harvard from 1965 to 1973 and at the University of Massachusetts, where he is now emeritus professor. His recent studies on cultural evolution have challenged the conventional economic assumption that people are motivated entirely by self-interest. These have included the mathematical modeling and agent-based computer simulations of the evolution of altruistic behaviors by means of multi-level selection and behavioral experiments in 15 huntergather and other small-scale societies. Bowles' current research also includes both theoretical and empirical studies of the role of incomplete contracts in labor markets and financial markets in explaining income inequality.

His scholarly papers have appeared in Science, Nature, American Economic Review, Theoretical Population Biology, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Journal of Political Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Behavioral and Brain Science, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Journal of Economic Literature, Journal of Economic Perspectives, and the Economic Journal. His recent books include Microeconomics: Behavior, Institutions and Evolution (Princeton University Press, 2004), Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: the Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life (MIT Press, 2005), Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success (Princeton University Press 2004), Foundations of Human Sociality: Economic Experiments and Ethnographic Evidence in 15 Small- scale Societies. (Oxford University Press. 2004) and Understanding Capitalism: Competition, Command and Change (Oxford University Press, 2004).

He has also served as an economic advisor to the governments of Cuba, South Africa and Greece, to presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy and Jesse Jackson, and to the World Bank and the International Labor Organization.

PRESENTATION TITLE: "The Nature of Wealth and the Dynamics of Inequality from Pre-history to the Knowledge-based Economy"

The copy of Professor Bowles' research in the current issue of Science Journal (Vol. 326, 6 November 2009) as well as a commentary on that, written by Professor Daron Acemoglu, will be available at the talk or can be requested prior to the talk by sending us an email.

Abstract: The continuum of inequality in human societies ranges from foraging bands with a strong egalitarian ethos to more highly stratified agrarian and industrial economies. No empirically-tested model of the stability of these differences over long periods of time or of the transitions among them exists. I address this puzzle with a dynamic model in which a population’s long-run steady-state inequality depends on the extent to which its most important forms of wealth are transmitted within families across generations. A new data set allows comparable estimates of the intergenerational transmission of different types of embodied, material, and relational wealth as well as the degree of wealth inequality for 21 historical and contemporary populations. I show that intergenerational transmission and wealth inequality is substantial among pastoral and small-scale agricultural societies (on a par with the most unequal modern industrial economies) and quite limited among horticultural and foraging peoples (equivalent to the most egalitarian of modern industrial populations). These findings and the model thus may help explain why permanent and substantial inequalities in wealth are characteristic of agricultural and pastoral economies and not of hunter-gatherers and horticulturalists. They also suggest a possible dramatic transformation of the dynamics of inequality in the knowledge-based economy.

Date: Friday, November 20, 2009
Time: 11:00AM - Noon
Place: Room ISOM 112

The Announcement for this talk can be found at:

INFORMS Student Chapter website:

UMASS Amherst Student Chapter of INFORMS

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Transportation Network Robustness in an Era of Climate Change

There has been a lot of press lately, and justifiably so, on the recent multiday closure of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Lake Champlain Bridge (it looks as though this one will be permanently closed). Closures of such critical transportation links have played havoc on commuting times as well as on the local economies that they connected and bridged.

There has been little attention, however, given to the impact of the deteriorating transportation infrastructure on the environment.

Our paper, Environmental Impact Assessment of Transportation Networks with Degradable Links in an Era of Climate Change, which is the lead article in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, provides quantitative measures to assess the impact on the environment of transportation infrastructure deterioration. It provides environmental impact assessment indices under alternative travel behavior (either system-optimal or user-optimal) and quantifies the environmental robustness of a transportation network subject to the deterioration of the roads, including their outright removal (as in the case of bridge closures or collapses).

The paper also demonstrates that travel behavior must be included in environmental assessments of transportation network robustness and the environmental impacts. In addition, and this is quite interesting, we demonstrate that system-optimizing behavior does not necessarily lead to reduced environmental emissions! Indeed, in certain networks, letting travelers behave selfishly and letting them determine their optimal routes of travel individually with no concern for negative externalities results in lower emissions than when a central controller routes traffic so as to minimize the total travel time!

Transportation networks are simply fascinating and counterintuitive phenomena associated with them from the Braess paradox on continue to provide important subjects for research, education, and, of course, practice.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Learning from a Top Executive, who is also an Alum

Today, my students in my undergraduate transportation & logistics class and I had the distinct pleasure of having Mr. Marc Schneider, the President of Phillips-Van Heusen's (PVH) Dress Furnishings Division, who is based on Madison Ave. in NYC, speak to us at the Isenberg School of Management. Mr. Schneider is an alumnus of the Isenberg School and I had asked him to speak on his "life experiences" and "lessons learned." I had met Mr. Schneider last Spring when he came to reconnect with the campus and I enjoyed him so much that when the opportunity arose to have him come back, I could not turn it down.

To make the occasion even more festive, and since the students had done well on their midterm exam, I brought Italian cookies from our favorite bakery in West Springfield, which were beautifully wrapped up and beribboned.

Having a top executive come to a class is meaningful in numerous ways. Students get to learn from a true expert and they get to ask questions on topics that interest them. This class consists of seniors who are majoring in operations management plus an exchange student from Hong Kong. The students are beginning to job hunt and several have already had interviews with major corporations.

Mr. Schneider was simply fantastic and since the majority of the students are from Massachusetts it was especially meaningful for them to see someone else born and bred in Massachusetts who had graduated from the school that they now attend who has been so successful.

Mr. Schneider began his career with Macy's in its training program, and held 14 different positions in 14 years, rising up to management. He was Executive Vice President of Bob's Stores and then Senior Vice President of Global Product Management at Timberland, a company renowned for its environmental concerns and emphasis on corporate social responsibility. Prior to his present position, he was President of PVH's Timberland Sportswear Division.

Mr. Schneider spoke on the importance of having objectives and a strategy (and emphasized the great professor that he had had at UMass Amherst -- Professor George Odiorne who had written numerous books on Management by Objectives).

He told us not to sit on the sidelines, but to always come to the table and to be willing to play the game with a lot of energy.

He emphasized the importance of leadership to inspire and to be inspired.

He also told the students the importance of relationships and how the people that they know form the "connective tissue" that make everything else possible. He spoke about hiring the individuals who are now Presidents of Coach and Gap, respectively, and the importance of excellent employees.

Mr. Schneider also extolled the specialness of travel and the associated experiences.

It was so interesting and fun to hear him speak about outsourcing, the bottom line issues of logistics and operations (just perfect for this class), efficiencies in warehousing and the movement of products, and deciding on whether to ship by boat or by air. He even spoke about service associated with apparel in stores and how his company deals with not only Walmart and Target but also with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom's. He told us that it costs $.50 to ship 1 tie and $3.50 to ship 1 shirt! His business travels take him regularly to Italy (to glorious Como, one of my favorite spots on this planet) and to China (especially Shanghai) and even to Africa.

He also spoke about the value equation and asked the students what, in their opinion, constitutes value.

Mr. Schneider's energy and knowledge plus passion for what he does filled the classroom and the time was too short (as all great visits are)!

Thank you, Mr. Marc Schneider, for your visit today to the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst! You inspired and educated all of us.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Boston Globe Letter to the Editor

My Letter to the Editor, provoked by the front page article in last Sunday's Boston Globe on the closure of the Lake Champlain Bridge and the social and economic ramifications, is now online. I blogged about this article last week and also brought it to my transportation and logistics class last Monday to share with my students. Winter is approaching and when the lake is covered with ice, the ferries will not be able to provide an alternative mode of transportation. The closure of this bridge has added as much as three hours to citizens' commutes and played havoc on businesses and workers' and their families' schedules and routines.

My letter argues for appropriate education in infrastructure planning and management as well as teaching about the optimization of resources, including funds to improve our country's infrastructure. The letter also argues for the need for leadership to identify which links and nodes should be repaired and better maintained before our infrastructure deteriorates even further.

As I say in the letter: Before it is too late, the decision makers need to identify how to best maintain the critical and way-too-fragile networks upon which our society and economy depend.

We have the tools but, sadly, we lack the leadership.

Indeed, Patrick Qiang and I in our Fragile Networks book provide a wealth of methodological tools to help in the identification of the importance and ranking of bridges and roads. It is high time that our country appropriately invests (and repairs) our infrastructure!

Friday, November 6, 2009

E-Z Pass and Infant Health -- Keep the Traffic Moving and Improve Health!

I have devoted years of research and teaching to transportation, logistics, and networks, and the associated methodologies that can help in forecasting traffic flows and, what economists call negative externalities, which, in the case of traffic, include both congestion as well as pollution.

My two books that focus specifically on environmental issues are: Sustainable Transportation Networks and Environmental Networks: A Framework for Economic Decision-Making and Policy Analysis, the latter co-authored with K. K. Dhanda and P. Ramanujam. These two books develop a spectrum of models and associated analytics that can be applied to identify a priori the impacts (both cost-wise and environmental-wise) of changes to networks in the form of design changes or policies. These books also discuss paradoxes that arise in transportation and emphasize how important it is to capture the actual behavior of drivers, firms, etc.

A National Bureau of Economic Research study, Traffic Congestion and Infant Health: Evidence from E-Z Pass, by Janet Currie and Reed Walker, which was just released, concludes that reductions in traffic congestion generated by E-Z Pass reduced the incidence of prematurity and low birth weight among mothers within 2km of a toll plaza by 10.8% and 11.8% respectively. This is a terrific example of transportation technology in the form of electronic tolls having a direct, positive impact on community health.

Our most recent paper on transportation and environmental issues shows the impacts of road condition deterioration on environmental pollution. The paper, Environmental Impact Assessment of Transportation Networks with Degradable Links in an Era of Climate Change, is forthcoming in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation.