Tag Archives: blogs

my course blog on public sector operations research

I am teaching a PhD seminar on public sector operations research this semester [Find it here!]. I am having students blog in lieu of problem sets and exams. You can read my welcome post here and you can read more about the course here. The course is a mix of application and theory, and I expect that the posts will be more about the application than the theory unless the students write about their research. But maybe they will surprise me.

The students submitted their first blog post today. A new post is due every two weeks until the end of the semester. I have to admit that their first blog posts really impressed me. Blog posts were about the students themselves, how they discovered operations research, and what they hope to learn in the class. Students discussed specific issues such as an internship at the State of Wisconsin, how to route a bus around a dangerous mountain path, how to measure performance in a human centered system, ethics, disasters, and sports scheduling.

Please leave comments if you wish. The students are required to read and comment on other blog posts as part of the course. Knowing that the course blog has readers will be a good motivator for the students.

The first two lectures overviewed the history of public sector operations research. Next, we will dive into models (both deterministic and stochastic). I’ll eventually post a list of some of our readings on Punk Rock OR. Stay tuned!

I am looking forward to a good semester with this group of students. On Wisconsin!



academic blogs: a labor of love

I recently discovered an articles about academics who blog from Tim Hitchcock (a humanities professor). The title really caught my eye: “Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.” Yes! We don’t have to create and maintain blogs, we do so because we love our disciplines and we love to share our passion:

The best (and most successful) academics are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.

I like this summary of how blogging goes hand in hand with other academic activities, contributing to them rather than detracting from them:

The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it. For myself the point is that these scholars don’t waste text, and neither do I. If I give a talk, I turn it into a blog. Not everything is blogged, but the vast majority of the public presentations I make as part of my job, will be.  And while many of these texts will never contribute to an academic article, about half of them do. As a result blogging has become part of my own contribution to what I think of as an academic public sphere. It becomes a way of thinking in public and revising ones work, to make it better, in public. And knowing that there is an audience (whatever its size), changes how one does it – forcing you to think a little harder about the reader, and to think a little harder about the standards of record keeping and attribution that underpin your research.

In fact, this article was cannibalized from one of Hitchcock’s blog posts (on his blog called “Historyonics”) that summarized a message from a talk he gave with the provocative title “Doing it in public: Impact, blogging, social media and the academy” [Link].

The message in these articles resonates with me. Blogging is a labor of love, and this is one of the main reasons to blog. Maintaining a blog is a lot of work, and that isn’t possible without passion. I definitely agree that blogging  isn’t wasted time, but to be honest, it took me awhile to be more efficient with blogging.

I wrote about academic blogging in an article about blogging in the IFORS newsletter that summarizes my thoughts on academic blogging. Here were my final thoughts in that article, where my passion for academic OR blogging hopefully shines through.

Blogging has been a very rewarding journey. While our fame (notoriety?) has passed—ABC News named Bloggers the 2004 People of the Year—blogging is still relevant and important. Blogs continue to be relevant despite being somewhat displaced by the massive rise of microblogging. Blogging provides content that cannot be conveyed in a 140-character tweet or short FaceBook post. Certainly YouTube videos, podcasts, and slidecasts also provide content that rival those in a blog post. However, it is simple to embed youtube videos in a blog post while the reverse is not. Blogs continue to be the best medium for a non-journalist to convey information in different formats accessible in the same place. I have been on several scientific blogging and social networking panels, and they have all confirmed the importance of blogs over other social networking tools.


People stumble across OR blogs for many reasons, and often they stick around. Reaching out to these readers is a tremendous opportunity to improve scientific literacy in the general public. I am often disheartened by the state of scientific literacy in the US, where a recent op-ed in the New York Times argued for universities to abolish the algebra requirement for incoming students and where politicians often cite federal grants for conducting basic scientific research as a symptom of government waste. We need to continue to make operations research known to those who can benefit from the use of advanced analytics for making better decisions. OR blogging is important for making the case to increase competence in mathematics, as it is important for letting people know about OR.

HT Arthur Charpentier (@freakonometrics).


happy 500th post to Punk Rock Operations Research!

I recently reached my 500th post on Punk Rock Operations Research! I have meant to celebrate, but I haven’t figured the optimal way to do so. At this point, this post will be my 514th blog post. I still haven’t figure out how to celebrate, but a celebration is not going to happen if I procrastinate any more.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think my blog is very important, but I hope it provides some joy to my readers. After 500 blog posts and nearly 7000 tweets, I’ve reflected on blogging and social media. Almost all of my reflections have focused on trying to convince myself that it isn’t all a colossal waste of time. It probably would have been if I didn’t enjoy blogging and social media so much. To be honest, blogging has never been a chore for me. I enjoy coming up with ideas for the blog and wish I had more time to devote to grand ideas for being an operations research ambassador. I can always do more, but I think I have found the right balance for me.

Blogging isn’t just about writing and reading:

  • I take great pride in doing my tiny part in increasing attention to our field of operations research.
  • I would not be as good of a teacher if I didn’t blog. Writing helps me break down a complicated idea into a series of steps that flow together to make a cohesive point (I achieve this most of the time). I often  think about my students while blogging, and I rewrite until I can envision newcomers to OR understanding my post.
  • And most importantly, I’ve met so many people through this blog who I might not have met otherwise. At the end of the day, relationships with friends and colleagues are really important. I’m grateful for how blogging has helped to enrich my social network in this way. I’m not much of a hugger, but if I have to hug someone at an operations research conference, I prefer to hug fellow OR bloggers and tweeps.

Blogging tidbit: I’ve signed exactly one autograph in all these years of blogging (way back in 2007 soon after I started blogging). I still smile when I think of it, but I’m not eager to sign any more.

Thank you for reading!

Punk Rock OR: 2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog. They found that people came to my blog looking for cookies instead of operations research. But I’ll take it. My blog received 84,600 hits, which is my highest annual total so far.

Thanks to my readers for making this happen! Special thanks to my top commentors: @parubin, @JFPuget, and @drmorr0.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 84,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

article about Punk Rock OR blogging in the IFORS newsletter

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write an article about academic OR blogging in the latest IFORS newsletter (here’s the link, see p. 4). The article is more or less a FAQ about my blog: why I began it (I blamed Mike Trick), how I maintain it with a busy academic life and three kids, and why I do not think blogging as a untenured assistant professor is career suicide. The last question, I admit, is truly the most frequently asked question about the blog.

Here’s a link to the article [pdf].

If you have any additional questions about blogging, ask them in a comment below. Or better yet, ask them at the social networking session (Monday at 11am) at the 2012 INFORMS Annual Meeting:

what do you want to know about blogging that you’ve always been afraid to ask?

At the INFORMS Annual Meeting, I am participating in a panel discussion about web 2.0 and social media tools for OR. I am the blogging panelist. Seeing as I maintain a podcast, I might sneak in a few podcast topics, too. While I have plenty of ideas about what I could discuss, I thought I would ask you about what you would like to hear.

What blogging and podcast topics would you like me to discuss in the panel?

OR bloggers Mike Trick and Paul Rubin will be on the panel to correct me and also to discuss OR Exchange and twitter, respectively. The last two panelists are Bjarni Kristjansson (social networking) and Tim Hopper (OR videos). I hope you are as excited about this panel as I am.

The panel is on Monday from 1:30 to 3:00pm. I hope to see you there!

My blog posts about blogging:

OR bloggers to begin a monthly blog-off

During the first “Tweet-up” at the INFORMS Annual Meeting, we tossed around a few blogging ideas.  We decided to try something new: all OR bloggers are invited to write one post about a monthly theme.  The theme will be provided by INFORMS (email your ideas!).  The first theme for the month of December is OR and the holidays.  Look for my post in the coming days as well as posts by all of your favorite OR bloggers.  In the mean time, check out the official INFORMS announcement and Mike Trick’s take for more details.