Category Archives: Podcast

the forecasting models behind the power outages forecasts for Hurricane Sandy

I’m thrilled to have interviewed Seth Guikema about his forecasting models for hurricane power outages between his gigs on Good Morning America and Bloomberg. Seth is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and he is the rock star of hurricane power outage forecasts. I wrote about a Baltimore Sun article about his research not too long ago. On the podcast, he and I chat about the methodologies he uses in his models as well as how news sources like to turn scientific research into digestible sound bites.

Listen here: (or go directly to the mp3 here)

You can listen to the episode below or you can go to the podcast web page (where you can download to iTunes, etc.) and feed. I recommend subscribing to the feed or going directly to the Punk Rock OR Podcast iTunes page, but you can also find the podcast episodes on this blog by clicking on “Podcast” under “Categories” in the left column.

Seth’s models have gotten a lot of coverage. Here are a few places where you can see Seth’s work translated for a general lay audience:

Seth’s forecasts as of 6am on 10/29:

Total prediction: 11 million without power
MD: 2 million
DC: 300,000
NJ: 3.4 million
DE: 425,000
PA: nearly 4 million
Here is an image of where the power outages will occur:

Power outage forecasts for Hurricane Sandy (courtesy of Seth Guikema)

new podcast interview with an undergraduate researcher

I published a new podcast, an interview with my undergraduate research assistant Taylor Richard from Oberlin College. He worked on an REU funded by the National Science Foundation. He did a wonderful job this summer. In the podcast, he talks about what he worked on this summer, the lessons he learned from doing research, and his love of horror movies.

This podcast should appeal to those of us in OR/MS and more broadly to undergraduates in the sciences who are thinking about graduate school. Please forward this to students who might be interested.

You can listen to the episode below or you can go to the podcast web page (where you can download to iTunes, etc.) and feed. I recommend subscribing to the feed or going directly to the Punk Rock OR Podcast iTunes page, but you can also find the podcast episodes on this blog by clicking on “Podcast” under “Categories” in the left column.

unicorns and operations research

My latest–and overdue–podcast is about unicorns and operations research. No, not those unicorns. The unicorn we discuss is based on the English coat of arms, where it is fighting a lion for the crown. This is the beginning of the paper we discuss:

In an essay entitled The Unicorn, J. B. Priestley comments on the lion and the unicorn  depicted  on our national coat of arms as  fighting  for the crown. He draws an  analogy  from this to two strands which are dominant in the British character. On the one hand  are those characteristics which relate to the lion. These include the power of the establishment, the whole body of received knowledge and doctrine, the logical deductive approach to decisions and all that might in some sense be termed vertical thinking, vertical communication and vertical authority. He contrasts this with the unicorn qualities, which include imagination, poetry, liveliness, flair, the role of the unexpected, the ability to make discoveries by a sudden leap of intuition into the dark, and all those things which we might term horizontal thinking and relationships. Priestley’s conclusion was that Britain had downgraded the importance of the unicorn and was in danger of allowing the lion too much scope.

The purpose of this paper is to apply this conception to our own discipline and to make a plea for the admission of more unicorn qualities into our research, for, as Ackoff has reminded us, O.R. is in danger of becoming too respectable and too establishment oriented.

I recorded this podcast with my regular podcast partner Richard Garrett, a star OR undergraduate at VCU. We recorded this podcast in May (when we say “this month” in the podcast, we are referring to May). I sincerely apologize for taking so long to produce this podcast episode. I have another episode in the works that will be available on Friday. I am happy to say that Richard is now in the PhD program in Decision Sciences and Engineering Systems at RPI. It has been a pleasure to record podcasts and to do research with him. I am thrilled that he has moved on to bigger and more exciting things.


Rivett, P. (1981). In Praise of Unicorns, The Journal of the Operational Research Society , 32(12), 1051-1059.

new podcast on irrational fears

I released a new podcast episode about the risk of a few of my irrational fears in life. In this podcast, Richard Garrett and I discuss the risks of dying

  • in a car accident,
  • in a plane crash,
  • from being struck by lightning,
  • in an elevator, and
  • in a bear attack.

You will have to listen to the podcast to find out if you need to worry about any of these risks. I will blog about some of the topics in the coming weeks. Stay tuned. To give you a taste of what we will discuss the podcast, I will mention that not driving whole intoxicated or getting in a car with someone who is intoxicated reduces the risk of a car fatality by 31%. Always wearing your seat belt reduces your risk of a car fatality by 44%. Both are compared to the aggregate risk across the entire US population.

Bear attacks are less frequent than car fatalities. But just how much riskier are cars than bears? You’ll have to listen for the answer.

Sorry for the long delay on the podcast. If it’s any consolation, I think this is my best podcast yet. I hope you enjoy it. My other podcasts are here (or go to the podcast website). In the mean time, stay clear of bears!

What is your irrational fear?

elections and OR

With election day coming up on Tuesday, the latest Punk Rock OR Podcast episode addresses elections and OR. You can listen here:

Here are a few show notes and links to extra material.

Walter Mebane, Professor of political science and statistics at the University of Michigan, has written several articles about under-staffing voting locations, election fraud, and election forensics (he may be a political scientist, but his papers have figures that look like they are made in R. Not too shabby). Check it out.

You are more likely to die in a car accident on Presidential election days. Here is the JAMA article that summarizes this disturbing research finding (and a Scientific American podcast about it).

University of Cincinnati PhD student Muer Yang developed a simulation model to reduce and equalize voter waiting times across different voting areas. This is a good example of using OR for elections.

How did the University of Illinois student body elect a gnome and snail for the student body president and vice-president, respectively? Technically, they didn’t. The gnome and snail were disqualified after winning a plurality of the vote, and the controversy led to an investigation. Here is the full story according to the snail. Amazingly, all of this is real.

We followed up on our last episode on pirates and OR. We found a new article in the Journal of Transportation Security that presents statistics on pirate attack success rates.

Don’t forget to email me with your OR jokes. And don’t forget to vote!


community based operations research

Michael Johnson, PhDI had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Johnson about his upcoming book Community Based Operations Research in a Punk Rock OR Podcast (21 minutes). It’s a fantastic book: I recommend that you ask your university library to add it to their collection.  If you are heading to the INFORMS Annual Meeting and are interested in CBOR, you might want to check out the two panels that Michael Johnson is chairing.

If you cannot wait for your copy of CBOR to arrive in the mail, I recommend reading Michael Johnson and Karen Smilowitz’s INFORMS Tutorial on CBOR. It’s a must read!

Other Podcasts can be found here.

on pirates and operations research

A search for “pirates and operations research” turned up a link about Pittsburgh Pirates player Ross Ohlendorf, who was an OR major at Princeton. I am interested in OR and real pirates. I have a new podcast out on pirates (see below).

Here’s the gist of the piracy problem plaguing the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Pirates operate small, maneuverable skiffs disguised as fishing boats to board trans-Pacific cargo ships, hold the crew ransom, and disappear once they receive their ransom. They don’t steal the cargo on the ships very often. Even in the modern world, it is hard to track down the pirates after the ransoms are paid.

Various governments have tried to combat piracy with warships that patrol the pirate infested waters in the Indian Ocean. The warships “can’t keep up with the region’s elusive pirates. The hijackers’ simple, brutal tactics are too effective. Their business model is too attractive. And they’ve got nothing to lose but their lives.” (see this Wired article).

Finding the pirates before they attack is like finding a needle in a haystack, since the pirates disguise themselves amongst many fishermen. The US Navy began a randomized screening approach to identify potential pirates.

[U]ntil they brandish weapons, pirates are indistinguishable from legitimate fishermen. Naval crews must stop and interrogate a lot of innocent seafarers, as seen in the U.S. Navy video below, in order to have any hope of disarming pirates before they attack. With tens of thousands of fishing boats plying the Indian Ocean alongside just 30 warships, lots of pirates are sure to slip through.

Preempting pirate attacks by screening is therefore not like screening passengers at security checkpoints. Everyone looks the same up front, so random screening is truly random, not risk-based. It’s not surprising that this doesn’t work. My research with Sheldon Jacobson has shown that aviation security resources are not good at detecting threat passengers if they do not discriminate between risk and less risky passengers. The problem is, it’s harder to identify risky fisherman than risky air passengers.

Mercenaries–Rent-a-cops with real weapons–can protect the cargo ships at a much lower price. This is cheaper than the government solutions are also more effective. A “few armed guards should be sufficient to defeat a pirate attack” and the mercenaries are always at the right place at the right time whereas navies usually arrive after the attack. Perhaps mercenaries could be placed on cargo ships much like Federal Air Marshals are placed on air flights: using an optimization-based approach that solves large Stackelberg games.

Looking at piracy as a supply chain, one goal is to disrupt the supply chain as much as possible in order to deter would-be pirates. Since the equipment used in piracy is so simple, this may not be very effective.  But pirates still need some kind of training to become successful menaces to society. This could lead to a kind of shortest path network interdiction model, where the pirates-in-training are trying to find the shortest path to becoming a pirate and we are trying to force them to take the longest path, thus disrupting the pirate supply chain. if it takes longer to become a pirate, then there will be fewer pirates and fewer pirate attacks. The network of nodes and arcs with associated costs would be akin to modeling the path to one’s university degree, where the nodes are courses and the edges represent prerequisites. Becoming a pirate would likewise involve certain skills (nodes), some of which must be performed in a certain sequence (arcs). If there were such a thing as Pirate University, I hope they don’t teach operations research.

Richard and I discuss pirates more on my podcast. We also talk about sports analytics, OR in the news, . I attempt to tell a couple of OR jokes, but as you will hear, I am in desperate need of better OR jokes (send them to You can listen to the podcast here:

How would you use operations research to catch pirates?

A new Punk Rock OR Podcast episode is available

A new Punk Rock OR podcast episode is available! In this episode, I chat with Richard Garrett about traffic, household energy usage, OR Halloween costumes, OR tattoos, and a few other things. I even (attempt to) tell an OR joke. Email us your feedback and OR jokes – send them to

Stay tuned: There will be another podcast next week. To find old podcasts, go to the podcast site or click on the Podcast category on the left.

Punk Rock OR Podcast #4: Sheldon Jacobson on aviation security

The fourth edition of the Punk Rock OR Podcast is out.  With the 10th anniversary of September 11th coming up, I decided to a podcast episode on aviation security was in order. Dr. Sheldon Jacobson from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agreed to chat with me about his research on aviation security to highlight the role of operations research in homeland security.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast feed via the podcast web site.


Sheldon Jacobson

Punk Rock OR Podcast #3: undergraduate students interview me

Yesterday, I announced that I revived my podcast. I posted another Punk Rock OR podcast episode today. My undergraduate student researchers (featured in episode #2) interview me being a professor.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast feed via the podcast web site.

Your comments and questions are always welcome! Send your comments to (If you send me an email, you consent to letting me use and showcase it in the blog, podcast episode, etc.).