Tag Archives: podcast and video

the craft of major league baseball scheduling – a journey from 1982 until now

Grantland and ESPN has a short video [12:25] on the couple who created the major league baseball schedules in the pre-Mike Trick era (1982-2004). The husband-and-wife team of Henry and Holly Stephenson used scheduling algorithms to set about 80% of the schedule. They found that the their algorithm could not come up with the entire schedule because the list of scheduling requirements led to infeasibility:

“It couldn’t do the whole schedule. That was where the big companies were falling apart. We analyzed the old schedules and found that none of them met the written requirements that the league gave to us. It turns out it was impossible to meet all of the requirements. So the secret was to really know how to break the rules.”

Watch the video here. The end of the video acknowledges how scheduling has evolved such that the entire schedules can be computer generated using combinatorial optimization software (the Stephensons even mention having to compete with a scheduling team from CMU). The video uses baseball scheduling as an avenue to illustrate how decision making and optimization has evolved in the past 30 years. I would highly recommend the video to operations research and optimization students.


operations research radio

Yesterday, Matt Saltzman, Mary Beth Kurz, and Doug Shier were on Clemson University’s radio program “Your Day.” It is an excellent and fun discussion about operations research. The program was archived and is available here:

Here is the program abstract:

Peter Kent is joined by Mary Beth Kurz, Associate Professor in Industrial Engineering, Matthew Saltzman, Associate Professor in Mathematical Sciences, and Doug Shier, Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Associate Dean in the School of Engineering and Science, all from Clemson University.  The discussion will focus on the practical application of quantitative methods in rational decision making to solve a wide range of problems arising in business and government, such as locating industrial plants, allocating emergency facilities, planning capital investments, designing communication systems, and scheduling production in factories

The show’s host discovered operations research through the Car Talk Puzzle TSP challenge (Mike Trick blogged about this challenge). Other OR applications discussed included circuit board manufacturing, finding the optimal number of check out lines to open, and whether single-queue/multiple-server models (e.g., bank tellers. Oh wait, no one does that any more. Let’s go with the DMV or going through customs) are better than multiple queue/multiple servers (e.g., the grocery store).

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?

amazing facts about the origins of the U.S. highway system

Americans love their cars.  Our love of cars goes back more than 100 years. Americans fell in love with cars when they were first introduced. They embraced the automobile like nothing else and demanded that a transportation system be built to accommodate their wanderlust.

I learned this in a podcast with Earl Swift, author of The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways. In the podcast, Earl Swift discussed the origins about the U.S. highway system. I learned quite a few things about our highways.

The interstate system did not begin in the 1950s with Eisenhower, as I had always believed. It began in 1913, when the inevitable dominance of the automobile over other forms of transportation was certain. Early adopters of the cars drove on dirt roads that were incredibly muddy.  The roads resembled the tracks that farm equipment leave behind next to fields of corn and soybeans. Driving from coast to coast was impossible. A US FHWA cite describes the roads at the time:

Railroads dominated interstate transportation of people and goods. Roads were primarily of local interest. Outside cities, “market roads” were maintained, for better or worse, by counties or townships. Many States were prohibited by their constitution from paying for “internal improvements,” such as road projects. The Federal-aid highway program would not begin until 1916 and, because of structural problems and the advent of World War I in 1917, would not accomplish much until 1921. The country had approximately 2,199,600 miles of rural roads and only 190,476 miles (8.66 percent of the total) had improved surfaces of gravel, stone, sand-clay, brick, shells, oiled earth, bituminous or, as a U.S. Bureau of Public Roads (BPR) bulletin put it, “etc.” Many people thought of interstate roads as “peacock alleys” intended for the enjoyment of wealthy travelers who had time to spend weeks riding around the country in their automobiles.

In 1913, private entrepreneurs led by Carl Fisher (of the Indianpolis 500 fame) established the Lincoln Highway Association to build the first paved highway in the United States: The Lincoln Highway (pictured below). The 3,398 mile Lincoln Highway eventually linked New York to San Francisco via Chicago (it follows the path near what is now I-80). This  “Coast-to-Coast Rock Highway” simply transformed the transportation system in the U.S. I included two pictures from 1920 and 1922 below to show how radically different the road looked from the dirt roads it replaced. I drove by the Lincoln Highway (now Route 30) every time I came home from college. I had no idea that it had such an interesting birth story.

The next major highway was the Dixie Highway (pictured below), which linked Chicago and Michigan to Miami. Not coincidentally, this is when Miami Beach was established (Carl Fisher was one of the developers). The Dixie Highway crossed the Appalachian Mountains, which was a big deal at the time. The highway looks like a ladder (see the picture below), because every city and municipality clamored to be along the route. These highways were a game-changer. The Dixie Highway still goes through Chicago. I knew of it was growing up, and as a result, I never associated the word “Dixie” with the South, even though it was originally intended to link Chicago to the South.

The later expressways (Eisenhower’s highways) were not originally designed to move around troops and missiles (at least Congress never seriously used that for justification). They were built and designed to support the many drivers in the U.S. Our economy depended on our transportation system. It still does.

It took some time to build the interstate system as we now know it. My grandfather grew up in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, where horse drawn carts delivered milk and other commodities. This was after the highway system began, but before cars completely replaced other modes of transportation. My grandfather remembers all of the horse manure that collected in the streets and alleyways. Most of the games he and the other kids played in the streets hard to be designed to work around the manure and the infectious diseases that could be transmitted from horse to human. This is yet another advantage of cars (Freakonomics covered the environmental trade-offs between car and horse transportation. Cars win).

Of course, the highway system has its problems. Despite the popular support for a highway system, there were many early critics who were ahead of their time in identifying the downsides to highways. For example, Lewis Mumford preached that congestion could not be cured by capacity. In 1955, Mumford wrote, “People, it seems, find it hard to believe that the cure for congestion is not more facilities for congestion.” (see this Atlantic Cities article by Eric Jaffe for more on this topic).

Amazing transportation systems in the United States and elsewhere provide a foundation for operations research. The highway system allows us to transport goods from one end of the country to another in mere days. The highway system inspired many OR problems that use the Traveling Salesman Problem, truck routing problems, facility location models, shortest path problems, and many other classic operations research problems. The Lincoln Highway is where much of it began.

Map of the Lincoln Highway

The Lincoln Highway, 1920. It looks nothing like the dirt roads it replaced.

The Lincoln Highway, 1922

Map of the Dixie Highway

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 punkrockORblog@gmail.com (If you send me an email, you consent to letting me use and showcase it in the blog, podcast episode, etc.).

Punk Rock OR Podcast #2: An interview with undergraduate student researchers

I decided to resume the Punk Rock Operations Research Podcast. This new podcast episode is an interview with two undergraduate student researchers, Amber and Richard, that I have been working with this summer.  Both Amber and Richard have been working on a research project that investigates the role of weather on emergency medical calls, mainly using statistical methodologies.  They both agreed to let me interview them about their summer research projects.

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.

Podcast episodes will be a semi-regular thing (that’s all I can promise for now–being a professor is a full-time job).  I’ll post updates on the blog.  I have two more podcast episodes in the works that will be available within the next week.

Your comments and questions are always welcome! I would love to answer your questions on air.  Send your comments to punkrockORblog@gmail.com (If you send me an email, you consent to letting me use and showcase it in the blog, podcast episode, etc.).