Friday, October 30, 2009

More Evidence of Our Fragile Networks -- the Bay Bridge

The San Francisco Bay bridge is still closed, days after 5,000 pounds of steel collapsed from it last Tuesday, causing havoc for commuters, who have had to determine new routes of travel to work (and back to their homes). This is another example of the fragility of the transportation network infrastructure in the United States, and one of the major themes of our Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies book. has provided an update to this important story.

The Europeans "get it" and are applying the measure that Patrick Qiang and I developed to determine the importance of various nodes and links in critical infrastructure networks, including transportation networks, the Internet, electric power distribution and generation networks and even financial networks.

For example, the Nagurney and Qiang measure has been applied to determine the efficiency of transportation networks in Germany and the ranking, in terms of importance, of various highways. It has now been proposed as a powerful tool in evaluating a proposed addition to the Dublin, Ireland metro in a very interesting article written by John Walsh. The article is contained in a glossy publication in the October 2009 issue of ERCIM, which focuses on Green ICT. The issue is in pdf format and may take a while to download but it is certainly worth the wait. More information about the ERCIM organization can be found here.

Those links in networks (think: roads, bridges in urban transportation networks; electric power lines, communication cables and fiber optic links in telecommunication networks, and even manufacturing and distribution channels in supply chains, including those in vaccine and medical ones) that are identified as most important from a network efficiency/performance standpoint, should be best maintained and protected since their removal or disruption will have the biggest impact on the system. At the same time, one can ascertain what improvements via the measure that we have developed will have the greatest positive impact.

What is the U.S. waiting for? What matters more than the infrastructure that our society and economy depend upon?!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Happy Birthday to the Internet! has a wonderful interview with Dr. Leonard Kleinrock. Dr. Kleinrock, a professor at UCLA, is sometimes referred to as a Father of the Internet and today marks the 40th anniversary or birthday of the message that he sent from the first node of the net at UCLA to Stanford. His interview illustrates his love of tinkering and his fascination with figuring out how things work but my favorite quote in the interview comes at the end of it and it is:

Life is one big puzzle for me in the positive sense. There are a lot of things to play with. And they pay me for it.

One can read more about Professor Kleinrock, who has received numerous awards, and those of us in operations research and engineering are also well aware of his numerous contributions to queuing theory, in this interesting article.

H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine supply chains

The New York Times has had excellent coverage on the H1N1 (swine flu) vaccine production problems, which have resulted in shortages throughout the US with citizens clamoring for information and long lines at vaccination stations, where they can be located, assuming that any vaccine has been delivered. The article, Shortage of Vaccine Poses Political Test for Obama, emphasizes the political ramifications of the government's overoptimistic projections of vaccine availability. It also links to another article that documents the problems encountered, still ongoing, with the vaccine supply chain from the manufacturing through the distribution and delivery.The technologies of vaccine production have, for the most part, not changed over decades and require the growing of the vaccines in eggs. Yields may be quite uncertain and that was the case for the H1N1 vaccine. On top of this problem, there were insufficient dispensers available, where and when needed, for both the nasal mist variety and the inoculation one, which demonstrates not only poor planning but inadequacies in this critical needs supply chain. Vaccine producers are now an oligopoly and there are only a few firms involved in producing for the US population.

Both China and Australia have been giving their citizens the H1N1 vaccine for awhile now. It is very frustrating that in the US better emergency preparedness was not done for vaccine production and distribution. Citizens do not need the added anxiety in this economic climate.What pleases me is that some school districts have realized that closing schools may be in the best interest at this time to assist in the minimization of flu transmission and in the recovery of those who are sick. Indeed, President Obama has declared a national emergency because of the swine flu but some school districts are still reluctant to close the schools and some are not even informing parents as to the seriousness of the spread of the flu.

The US must invest in its vaccine supply chains and begin to regain its manufacturing strength and know-how. This is an issue of not only emergency preparedness, healthcare, but also one of national security.

The outstanding talk that Professor Jose Holquin-Veras gave last Friday in our Speaker Series on emergency logistics has now been made available and can be found, in pdf format, here. We thank him for trying to educate FEMA post-Katrina and we hope that others can learn before it is too late. We also extend our sincerest thanks for making his presentations slides available.

If I had the resources available I would make sure that all of the talks in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series are videotaped and put online. Coincidentally, last May, I was invited to give a talk on global supply chains and vulnerabilities at the University of California Davis, just as the swine flu was breaking out last Spring. I decided to minimize the risk and my talk was videostreamed. It is now available online, thanks to the Institute for Transportation Studies there. It was certainly an interesting experience to give a talk to an audience thousands of miles away!

We have been conducting research on network design for such problems and have completed a study. The paper is now in the refereeing stage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Was the Operations Research Crew Scheduling Program Just Too Interesting?

According to as well as the New York Times, the reason that the Northwest pilot and first officer were unreachable for about 90 minutes on last week's flight from San Diego to Minneapolis (and overshot their destination by about 150 miles before turning around) was that they were engrossed in the crew scheduling software on their laptops.

Since Delta merged with Northwest, there have been obvious issues regarding the retraining of personnel (I have had long discussions with stewardesses on flights during which I was told how different the philosophies were of these two airlines pre-merger as well as the number of stewardesses that would assist on a flight).

According to news reports, the first officer was assisting the pilot with the crew scheduling software and clearly the subject was of sufficient fascination for both that they did not realize that they were to be piloting an airplane! Those of us who work in operations research are well aware of the underlying mathematical models and, coincidentally, today I was teaching integer programming models in my graduate class at the Isenberg School.

Of course, these two have now lost their pilot licenses. I remember a colleague of mine, Dr. Richard Stone, who is a Lanchester Prize winner and early in his career taught at the Kennedy School at Harvard and then left to join the Operations Research group at Northwest Airlines. You can read about some of his relevant activities here.

It is rather ironic that O.R. (operations research) which focuses on optimization of business processes, including crew scheduling, may have had a role to play in this major human error and only because the software was clearly so interesting that it was an obvious distraction to the flight crew. Why were there no "bells and whistles" in the automatic pilot software when the plane overshot its destination, I wonder?!

As for the merger of Delta and Northwest, locally, we lost our direct flight from Bradley airport (Hartford/Springfield) to Amsterdam, which was a terrific asset while we had it for about a year and a half.

I have done research on mergers and acquisitions in oligopolies, which airlines are, and you can find my latest paper on the subject, which is in press in the journal Computational Management Science here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Where's the Beef and the Tolls? Teaching Transportation and Logistics is Never Dull

Teaching my undergraduate transportation and logistics class is NEVER dull. Today, I began my day with a lecture in this class on tolls, unbeknowest to me, that a huge accident had taken place earlier in Weston, Massachusetts at the toll plaza. Several tractor trailers crashed into one another, including one carrying over 46,000 pounds of beef (and that is the one that overturned). A car was also involved in the chain reaction accident. Beef was all over the road (quite frankly, not a pleasant sight)!!!

As our Boston press reported, the "bad" news was that the accident occurred and that the beef was lost to human consumption (let's hope). The "good" news was that for 3 hours, the police just waved through the vehicles and no tolls were collected for them. The Massachusetts turnpike authority had gotten so much flack for horrendous delays on the Pike last Easter that a new rule had been passed and to minimize further delays the traffic is just waved through until the incident is declared cleared up.

Now the state officials are worried about the loss of income due to the tolls that were not paid and are hoping to get compensation through insurance.

Interestingly, I had shared with my students this morning some horror MA tollbooth stories, including one that resulted in the death of a friend's mother.

Indeed, teaching this transportation and logistics class is never dull. Just this week, my students also got to hear about the Northwest flight from San Diego that overshot its destination of Minneapolis by 150 miles (still no complete story as to what exactly transpired in the cockpit during the 90 minutes that no traffic controller could reach them). Even the President was notified as to this very suspicious activity. Interestingly, one week prior many of our colleagues were flying back from the INFORMS conference in San Diego!

Last year, one of the hot topics in the news was the pirates affecting maritime transport off the coast of Africa; now we have wandering pilots and beef spillages at toll booths.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Emergency Logistics: A Speaker who Inspired

Today we had the distinct privilege and honor of hosting Professor Jose Holquin-Veras of RPI in Troy, New York, who delivered the talk, Emergency Logistics Issues Impacting the Response to KATRINA: What Went Wrong? What Could we do to Avoid a Repeat? as part of the UMass Amherst Fall 2009 INFORMS Speaker Series. Professor Holquin-Veras arrived in time for the special reception that the Student Chapter that helps me to organize this series had prepared to celebrate its summa cum laude award which it received in San Diego on October 13, 2009. Before his presentation, which took place today at 11AM at the Isenberg School of Management, he chatted with the chapter officers and the guests who had come to the reception.

It was wonderful to have faculty and students, both undergraduate and graduate, not only from the Isenberg School, but also from the College of Engineering as well as from the Department of Economics in attendance. There were also guests from the community. I always say that if one has an outstanding speaker talking on a fascinating subject, the room will fill up, and Professor Holquin-Veras was simply terrific!

He shared with us his on-site experiences and knowledge gleaned from numerous interviews as well as data analysis on the disaster that was Katrina as well as on the second-tier disaster that followed with the material convergence. He spoke about the complete lack of emergency preparedness at local, regional, and national levels, and how Walmart, luckily, had identified the pending humanitarian disaster and had relayed trucks with supplies. We learned that 40 commodities are essential and how important it is to develop models for humanitarian logistics that identify the appropriate objective function to optimize, which he stated could be done with economic valuation to capture the social costs that should be minimized (and the associated suffering). Humanitarian logistics operations and supply chains are completely different from commercial supply chains and, ironically, in the former there is a great deal of competition among existing emergency service providers. The demands aren't known in the case of disasters and the convergence of material creates serious congestion (he spoke of tuxes being delivered, coats to warm climates, and totally useless materials).

How do we quantify the social costs and the priorities of deliveries in such situations where time is such an essential element and there is most likely chaos in locations that require the deliveries? Why were the emergency providers not trained in humanitarian logistics? Critical supplies were not prepositioned. Hopefully, the government has learned from the numerous mistakes made and the serious shortcomings that resulted in so much pain, suffering, and loss of life.

To the rapt audience, Professor Holquin-Veras also talked about the importance of mathematical modeling and in identifying appropriate metrics for humanitarian logistics operations. He also emphasized that the problems are nonlinear (as opposed to linear). At lunch, he offered life lessons and stressed the importance of doing research and valuing the long-term.

So many came up to me after Professor Holquin-Veras' talk and visit to thank me for helping to host him. I say thank you to Professor Holquin-Veras for educating us on a topic of great importance.

I hope that more universities will undertake the research and educational challenges surrounding emergency logistics and preparedness.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Juggling by an Academic Couple

Academic as well as any working couples with children have learned how to juggle and to make the most of all the constraints imposed on them. Some academic couples (including some of my former students) are quite lucky and have found positions in neighboring colleges/universities or even in the same department! Others that you may have heard of juggle their positions and commutes across the country or even across the Atlantic Ocean earning more frequent flier miles than pilots!

My husband and I have been offered positions (excellent ones) elsewhere but, for various reasons (and we still wonder) we have stayed at our respective institutions (for now), which means that he has the long commute. Besides commuting, however, as academics, we go to conferences to present our work and at such venues one learns from other colleagues and also has opportunities for networking.

Last week I was at the INFORMS conference in San Diego and this week my husband spoke at the Frontiers in Education (FIE) conference in San Antonio. If one has children, one may end up, literally, "passing the parcel" to each other at the airport. Now that our daughter is a teenager with numerous activities at her prep school (and beyond) the logistics of daily life can get very complicated. There is something to be said about living in a city where there is a lot of access to public transportation so that youth can learn to navigate such systems and be more mobile and independent. However, since we live in Amherst and activities are spread out such an approach is not feasible. So, we attempt to optimize within all of our constraints.

The FIE conference, according to my husband, was really professionally and personally rewarding. He even saw a colleague from England who he had not seen in 20 years. More information about the conference can be found here. The paper that he presented was entitled, Software Defined Radio in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Curriculum.

Above I have posted some photos that he took in San Antonio, including a photo of the Alamo and the River Walk, as well as one of him holding my latest book, Fragile Networks, which was displayed at the Wiley booth at the conference.

En route back, at the Baltimore airport, he even saw a colleague of mine who had just given a seminar at the University of Maryland. It is fairly common for professors to get hearty "hellos" in airports around the world! Thanks to Southwest's seating system, they were able to sit next to each other on the flight back to Hartford/Springfield.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Emergency Preparedness and Humanitarian Logistics

Doing Good with Good O.R. (Operations Research) has been a theme of one of my professional societies -- INFORMS. It is a theme that resonates with many and never has there been a time when the best in analytics should be applied to help solve some of the world's most pressing problems.

Crises, in particular, bring new challenges to problem-solving due to the immediacy of needs in terms of food, water, and medical supplies.

This Friday, in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series, we will be hosting Professor Jose Holquin-Veras of RPI, who will be speaking on Emergency Logistics Issues Impacting the Response to KATRINA: What Went Wrong? What Could We Do to Avoid a Repeat?
Immediately prior to his presentation, at 10:30AM, the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter will be hosting in ISOM Room 112 a special reception to display the award plaque that it received at the INFORMS San Diego conference last week.

We are honored that Professor Holquin-Veras will be speaking in our series. Interestingly, last week, President Obama was in New Orleans to survey the lingering impacts of Katrina. Not only do I have a family member living there but also several friends. Some former residents that I know well have left and many are still struggling.

To demonstrate the unique challenges associated with humanitarian logistics and emergency preparedness, I developed a website in conjunction with the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Conference: Humanitarian Logistics: Networks for Africa conference that I organized. This website contains many of the presentations given at the conference and one, delivered by Professor Emmett Lodree, focuses on Hurricane Katrina and impacts even on his close family. Please also look at the presentation of Mr. Antony Cooper of CSIR in South Africa, which is deeply illuminating.

We are now researching emergency and humanitarian supply chains.

Monday, October 19, 2009

First Female Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences

Yesterday's New York Times had a full page ad by Levi's that said: "THIS YEAR, FIVE WOMEN HAVE CONFERRED THE GREATEST BENEFIT ON MANKIND." In smaller print the statement followed: Congratulations to these Nobel Prize winners who, we believe, exemplify the pioneering spirit in all of us --regardless of gender.

Indeed, in 2009, there are five female Nobel laureates and the first female, Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University, to be awarded the prize in economic sciences. Each of the females has her own fascinating story. I was especially touched by Carol Greider, who suffered from dyslexia, and who is sharing the prize in medicine with her dissertation advisor, Elizabeth Blackburn, who is also female, and by Elinor Ostrom, who, as a child, was a stutterer. You can read a wonderful bio of her here. What very much impressed me about Elinor Ostrom is her devotion to interdisciplinary research and her ability to bring together researchers for collaborations. Also, her productivity is amazing as evidenced by the publications on her cv. I also very much appreciate Ostrom's central theme of her research and her capacity to innovate and tackle problems associated with governance and natural resources from new directions. Ostrom is sharing the prize with Oliver Williamson of UC Berkeley.

Interestingly, I had contributed a chapter on parallel computation to the first volume of the Handbook of Computational Economics, whereas Ostrom had contributed a chapter on governing social-ecological systems with Janssen to the second volume. The editors of these two volumes were, respectively, Hans Amman, David Kendrick, and John Rust for the first, and Leigh Tesfatsion and Ken Judd for the second volume. These are my good colleagues from the Society of Computational Economics.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Isenberg School of Management Celebrated

October 17, 2009 was the perfect Saturday for homecoming at UMass Amherst and for the dedication of the Dean Thomas O'Brien Endowed Chair. The first holder of this endowed professorship is our new Dean of the Isenberg School, Dr. Mark Fuller.

The dedication took place in our lovely atrium at 11:30AM and even the Isenbergs were in attendance, as well as our Chancellor, Provost, and many esteemed guests, donors, faculty, staff, and alums. It was a glorious event. Above I have posted a few photos from the dedication ceremony as well as from the wine tasting that took place afterwards, which was hosted by one of my former students, Peter Chouinard, who is now the President of the Wente Family Estates, which includes one of the largest wineries in California!

Mr. Chouinard spoke at the reception about the faculty that he remembered and highlighted both my great colleague, Professor Ben Branch, and me. We were so touched. When a student who is so successful comes back and says that it was the professors who taught him how to handle complex problem solving that has made a difference is simply thrilling!

The Isenberg School is a truly special place as is UMass Amherst. The video clip (with image above) was shown at the meeting of the UMass Foundation yesterday morning before the dedication. My students and I were interviewed and videotaped over 3 different sessions and although we only appear in the middle of it and towards the end (and, yes, it is now on youtube), I marveled at the number who mentioned to me at the reception how much they enjoyed seeing ISOM faculty featured in it.

The link to this latest UMass Amherst videoclip is here. It also includes a clip of the second most powerful female in the world, according to Forbes, Sheila Bair, who is Chair of the FDIC, and on leave from my department.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Students Bearing Gifts and the Sense of Wonder

Today is a very special day since the University of Massachusetts Amherst will be celebrating the establishment of the Dean Thomas O'Brien Endowed Chair at the Isenberg School of Management. We will also be welcoming Dean Mark Fuller as our new Dean and as the first holder of this chaired professorship. I received a formal invitation from Chancellor Holub for the ceremony today, which, by the way, falls on homecoming weekend!

Being a professor is always filled with surprises and, today, through the photos above, I am sharing with you some of the gifts that I have received from students (both graduate and undergraduate ones) recently. Having great students is the best reward for a professor but, I must admit, these gifts I will always treasure since each, in its own way, is just perfect (and also so representative of the gift-giver)! Yes, one of the gifts featured above is a robotic vacuum cleaner!

The most recent gift that arrived at my door is displayed below.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Our Fragile Networks on Display in San Diego

Our book, Fragile Networks: Identifying Vulnerabilities and Synergies in an Uncertain World, was on display at our publisher's booth at the INFORMS San Diego conference. The editors and marketing folks at our publisher, John Wiley & Sons, have told my co-author, Dr. Patrick Qiang, and me, that the book is selling very well! We are delighted that many libraries have already acquired the book and it has also been doing very well in individual sales.

We thank all of the funding agencies and foundations as well as organizations, institutions, and colleagues and collaborators who made the research behind this book and the writing of it possible! We also thank our families for their support!

More information about the Fragile Networks book can be found here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Fora Awards breakfast at INFORMS San Diego

I would be remiss not to share some photos taken at the Fora awards breakfast in San Diego at the INFORMS conference on October 13, 2009. Above I have posted some photos of those in attendance as well as several of the award recipients.

I, again, congratulate all the INFORMS student chapters on their awards, as well as those individuals who were honored with the Judith Liebman award and the Moving Spirit award for Fora and for chapters.

My colleague, Professor Ana Muriel of the Mechanical and Engineering Department at UMass Amherst, received the Moving Spirit Award for Fora for her work with WORMS as its former President. My former doctoral student, Dr. Patrick Qiang, was a recipient of a Judith Liebman award.

Please see my post below for some photos of the WORMS luncheon in San Diego.

Photos that Capture the Festivities and Diversity at the 2009 WORMS Award Luncheon in San Diego

Now that the fabulous INFORMS conference in San Diego has come to its conclusion, I would like to share with you some photos taken at the Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences (WORMS) luncheon on Tuesday, October 13. The photos acknowledge the sponsors, display the program, capture our wonderful officers, and the 2009 WORMS Award recipient, Professor Alice Smith of Auburn University. They also demonstrate the diversity of those in attendance.

Congratulations to the WORMS community for such a special and wonderful occasion and many thanks to the sponsors of this truly memorable event.

We thank both Professor Patrick Qiang and Professor Christian Wernz for assisting with the photography!

More photos will be posted on the WORMS site.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

INFORMS in San Diego

The INFORMS Annual Conference in San Diego has been fantastic! The venues of the Convention Center and the Hilton Hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean and graced by palm trees and flowers are simply gorgeous. The conference has thousands in attendance and I have been enjoying immensely seeing colleagues from around the globe.

Today, we began with the breakfast FORA meeting at which the INFORMS student chapter awards and several other awards were given. It was a pleasure to give out the chapter awards, along with Professor John Fowler. I congratulate the student chapters who received their summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude awards today. The UMass Amherst student chapter and the Texas A&M chapters received the summa cum laude awards. I also would like to congratulate the winners of the Moving Spirit awards and the Judith Liebman awards! Dr. Patrick Qiang is my second former doctoral student to receive the Judith Liebman award.

After the awards breakfast I had the terrific experience of being interviewed by Barry List, the INFORMS Communication Director, for a podcast. We will let you know when it goes online.

I managed to also give a talk today and to attend a session before joining hundreds at one of the highpoints of the annual INFORMS meeting -- the WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) luncheon. I am also very pleased and proud that both the College of Engineering and the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst donated substantial funds to support this luncheon.

At the luncheon, I had the distinct honor of giving the 2009 WORMS Award to Professor Alice Smith of Auburn University for her extensive contributions to increasing the visibility and success of females in operations research. She has chaired the department of industrial engineering at Auburn University for 10 years, has written over 150 publications, and has led two NSF grants in support of female researchers. I read several quotes from her letters of support and from her nominator. It was a very festive event!

Many lingered over the lunch and afterwards to network and to chat. At my table, I had so many of my former doctoral students, who are now professors: Dr. Dmytro Matsypura, who is at the University of Sydney in Australia, Dr. Jose Cruz, who is at UCONN, Dr. Tina Wakolbinger, who is at the University of Memphis, Dr. Zugang Liu, who is a professor at Pennsylvania State University at Hazleton, and Dr. Patrick Qiang, who is a professor at Penn State's Graduate School of Professional Studies in Malvern. It was like a reunion and it was so much fun to exchange experiences and our recollections. We were joined at our table by other Isenberg School PhDs with concentrations in Management Science: Professor Debbie O'Connor from Holy Cross and Professor Shenghan Xu from the University of Idaho. In addition, Dr. Christian Wernz, who received his PhD in Industrial Engineering from UMass Amherst and who is now a professor at Virginia Tech, helped to complete a most convivial group which also included Professor Laura McLay of Virginia Commonwealth University.

What really impressed me was the large number of both males and females as well as minorities that attended this luncheon which speaks volumes about the warmth that faculty, practitioners, and students feel in the WORMS community.

This evening there is a reception at Sea World!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The 2009 Nobel Laureates in Economic Science -- Professors Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson

The 2009 Nobel prize in Economic Science has just been announced. It is awarded to Professor Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University and to Professor Oliver Williamson of the University of California Berkeley.

Congratulations to these Nobel Laureates.

How terrific that this year multiple females are being given a Nobel prize in literature as well as in the sciences and now in economic science!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Audacious Science and Natural Beauty

I came upon a fascinating article while taking a break from packing for the INFORMS conference in San Diego. The article is on Audacious Science and scientists who take bold risks and who through their creativity and tenaciousness go against the prevailing dogma. It also mentions how great scientists often have in their heritage a flair for the arts. You may find the article here and it is definitely worth a read since it is provocative.

Since Amherst and New England are at the height of a magnificent fall foliage season I wanted to preserve some of the beauty through the photos that I took locally. Nature may look very different after I return from California.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Award Season and the INFORMS Conference in San Diego

October is a season for the announcement of some major awards, including the Nobel prizes! I always find it fascinating to see who gets selected and, this week, the big news has been about President Obama's selection as the recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.The recipient of an award receives recognition and, when an award is not expected, there is that extra element of surprise and wonder (and, of course, heightened expectations). The newspapers have had articles on previous recipients who continue to feel energized that their hard work has been recognized in a substantive and magnificent way.

Many of my colleagues and I are now getting ready to travel to take part in the 2009 INFORMS Conference, to be held in San Diego, October 11-14. This is an annual conference for operations researchers and management scientists and you can read a press release here. The program even includes a talk by the Nobel laureate in Economics, Dr. Harry Markowitz, who will be speaking next Monday, the same day that the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Science will be announced.

As Chair of the 2009 WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Award Committee, I will be giving out this award on Tuesday at the WORMS luncheon. I have already prepared my speech in which I have included quotes from several support letters for the awardee (very moving, I must say). I will also be taking part in a breakfast for fora at which the student chapter awards and other fora awards will be given out. The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter that I serve as the Faculty Advisor of will be honored with the summa cum laude award and one of its former officers, Dr. Patrick Qiang, will be receiving the 2009 Judith Liebman Award.

I am also very much looking forward to the Transportation Science & Logistics Society business meeting next Monday evening in San Diego at which a dissertation prize and the Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award will be given out.

Many of my former doctoral students from as far away as Australia as well as Associates of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks will be attending the INFORMS Conference in San Diego. It will be a wonderful venue in which to reunite and to celebrate research, community, and friendships.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Food Webs as Nature's Supply Chains and Network Economics: Research that Crosses Disciplines

In a recent paper, The Impact of Boundary Spanning Scholarly Publications and Patents, published in PLoSone, the authors: Shi, Adamic, Tseng, and Clarkson state in the abstract that Human knowledge and innovation are recorded in two media: scholarly publication and patents, ... which carefully cite prior work upon which the innovation is built. The authors conclude after their careful analysis of two very large citation datasets that a publication's citing across disciplines is tied to its subsequent impact. I had been told that the impact of one's work has really made a difference if it is used in other fields so it is gratifying to have such insights now documented. This brings me to another discipline and application that is making use of my results in Network Economics (which was the title of the very first book that I wrote, which was published in 1993 with the second edition appearing in 1999).

I came across a truly original and fascinating paper while researching food supply chains, entitled, NEATS: A Network Economics Approach to Trophic Systems, which is now in press in the journal Ecological Modelling and is co-authored by a group of researchers based in France: Mullon, Shin, and Cury. The paper applies some of the results in my Network Economics: A Variational Inequality Approach book to formulate and determine equilibria in predator prey complex webs. One reads regularly about the impact of science on economics but this paper demonstrates how economics and, especially, network economics, can be used to combine both biological constraints that couple biomass balance equations with complementarity principles using Walras' law. The authors investigate the solutions to simple food chains, bilayer networks, complex food webs, and even to cannibalism (the links loop back to the specific nodes in such networks)!

The authors derive the equilibrium conditions using path concepts, provide theoretical results, and apply the model to the coastal fishery system of Chile. The paper is beautifully illustrated with networks depicting the different species and their volumes along with the resulting species biomass under numerous scenarios. In this framework, one can then investigate the effects of climate change on the species and address numerous ecological questions, from those revolving around differences in productivity, the underlying causes of biological diversity, as well as various controls in marine ecosystems.

The lead author, with associates, will even be offering a course on the subject, Economic versus Ecological Networks: Integrating Economy and Ecology in Scenario Building for Marine Ecosystems, next month on the subject (in France) and the flyer even has my name on it.

A very nice presentation by the authors on the economic approach to the equilibrium of trophic networks can be found here.

In my Network Economics book I discuss applications using variational inequality theory to traffic networks, spatial price equilibrium problems, migration problems, oligopolies, knowledge networks, and even to financial networks. I guess the third edition will need to include applications to biological ecological systems, as well!

Of course I have corresponded with these authors to congratulate them on their excellent paper!

Also, for those of you who read my previous post, I am delighted that Dr. Helander of IBM has how made her slides on Food Safety in a Global Supply Chain available. We thank her!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Hamburgers, Food Safety, and Network Economics

Today's New York Times has an article that may convert everyone to vegetarianism. The article documents the trail that a hamburger, which was adulterated with E. coli, most likely took that resulted in the paralysis of a young female consumer. The article Trail of E. Coli Shows Flaws in Inspection of Ground Beef states that the prefrozen hamburger patty that she consumed had parts that originated in Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and even Uruguay! The processor noted that such processing was cheaper by about 25%. Clearly, the true costs are not being appropriately assigned.

What is also extremely frightening is that certain beef suppliers will only sell their "product" to processors that do not check the quality of their beef. There is, hence, tacit agreement or collusion between decision-makers in tiers of the food supply chain to explicitly and outrightly ignore quality of the product. And here we are speaking about food that we eat!

Food safety was a topic of Dr. Helander's presentation on September 18, 2009 in our speaker series at the Isenberg School. She (as the article also notes) stated that it appears that incidents of food adulteration are becoming more and more common. Ironically, other countries (and especially the continent of Europe) are paying much closer attention to the safety of the food that its consumers eat and are passing appropriate regulations and legislation. Indeed, a few years back I was on the doctoral dissertation of a student, Mr. Diogo M. Souza Monteiro, whose dissertation was entitled, Theoretical and Empirical Analysis of the Economics of Traceability Adoption in Food Supply Chains. He is now a professor in England. He had also been a student in one of my Management Science classes in which we used my Network Economics book and had done a very nice project on vertical integration in food supply chains. He also cited several of our papers on supply chains and risk management in his dissertation.

Also, his dissertation advisor, Professor Julie Ann Caswell, had delivered a talk on food safety and what it would take the first year of our speaker series.

A very interesting paper of theirs, which cites my Network Economics book, focuses on the multi-ingredient nature and the economics of food supply chains and traceability.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dr. Andrew Lo on the Financial Crisis

Today we had the distinct privilege and great honor of hosting Professor Andrew Lo of the Sloan School at MIT who gave the lecture Kill All the Quants?: Models vs. Mania in the Current Financial Crisis. His talk was co-hosted by the UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series and the Finance Series in the Isenberg School of Management. He spoke to a standing room only crowd and provided us with his unique insights into the financial crisis.

He discussed securitization as being at the heart of the financial crisis and the role that financial innovations played. He described how correlations increased and the role that human behavior played when we were in an era of prosperity and complacency. He discussed how the human brain has difficulty perceiving risk when we don't experience it. He showed us a video in which we were to count the number of times a basketball was passed from one white t-shirted individual to another while he randomly counted. He then asked the audience how many had noted that in the video there had been a person in a gorilla suit that had walked past. Most of the audience had not noticed the gorilla until he replayed the video (which says a lot about our human cognitive abilities to multitask).

Professor Lo spoke about the value of a PhD and why the associated training is so important. PhD students in creating something original and writing about it come to know the limitations of their knowledge. He discussed the psychology of greed that makes these crises unavoidable and how we must prepare for such eventualities. He has been promoting a National Transportation Safety Board for the financial system. He noted that finance should be taught even in high schools. Professor Lo spoke about the rebuilding of our financial infrastructure (a theme that resonated with me since critical infrastructure and its rebuilding permeates my Fragile Networks book). He also stated that it would take an act of Congress for us to get the data that we need to be able to analyze the topology of the complete financial network and mentioned my Network Economics chapter in the Handbook on Computational Econometrics.

He even spoke about complex systems and feedback loops. He mentioned the adaptive market hypothesis that he has been promulgating and that we need alternative theories that capture neuroscience, evolutionary principles, and economics. He mentioned that we need to let the smaller fires burn to prevent the huge inflagrations.

The doctoral students also immensely enjoyed discussions with Professor Lo after his talk and the lunch that followed at the University Club. They called him truly inspirational!

We thank Professor Lo for his time, his wisdom, and for his brilliance!

Supply Chain Network Economics and Taking Risks

Yesterday, the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Dr. Barbara Grosz, launched the official recognition of the institute's tenth anniversary by delivering the Morning Prayers at Harvard University. In her speech, she quoted Genesis and overviewed the origins of the Radcliffe Institute. She spoke of the increasingly important roles that such institutes play in academia and even how Radcliffe is helping to crack glass ceilings and narrow recognition gaps at the highest levels of academia through its fellowship program, symposia, and other initiatives. As a Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Fellow '06, I personally benefited from a glorious year there during which I was able to write the book, Supply Chain Network Economics: Dynamics of Prices, Flows, and Profits. Dean Grosz (who, by the way, was Radcliffe's Dean of Science when I was a Fellow) also stated that she hopes that Radcliffe will continue to inspire students, faculty, fellows, staff and institution leaders alike, so that, like Jacob, we have the courage to risk unknown roads and the strength to overcome the obstacles we encounter along the way. And, may our circumstances enable us to realize our dreams.

My Supply Chain Network Economics book is now being cited and used internationally. It is quoted in a recent United Nations report on the social life cycle assessment of products produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and has even been discussed in the context of diamond supply chains!

Thank you, Radcliffe, for giving me the time, the community, and the incredible intellectual ambience so that I could write this book!