Thursday, May 13, 2010

My 5 favorite Operations Research blogs

I do a lot of blogging in my spare time. I especially like to read up on blogs that really interest me. My passion is what I do for a living which is, of course, Operations Research and Industrial Engineering. I am often amazed of the great writing and resources available in the online Operations Research community. So I thought I would share on this blog my 5 favorite blogs that I am usually checking every day. These blogs are not listed in any particular order.

1. Michael Trick's Operations Research blog

You can pretty much argue that Michael is the "Father of Operations Research blogs". Michael does a great job of mixing academia and real world applications of Operations Research. Often times the comment section is worth the read with great contributors to his blog.

2. Thoughts on business, engineering, and higher education by Aurelie Thiele

This blog by Auriele is probably some of the best writing in the Operations Research blogs. I particularly love the issues that Auriele presents on a weekly basis. In fact I'm outright jealous of Auriele's insight. This blog is just a flat out good read.

3. Punk Rock Operations Research

Punk Rock O.R.'s writer Laura McLay is another good Operations Research blogger that mixes academia and real life OR interests. I enjoy Laura's commentary on a lot of issues that you might not expect in mainstream OR applications. I especially like Laura's interests in sports.

4. Sebastian Pokutta's Blog

This blog may not be one of the most popular blogs but I really like Sebastian's Operations Research blog. Maybe the fact that I really relate to Sebastian's ideas and his endorsement of open source software in Operations Research. Sebastian finds really good nuggets in the OR world that you don't often see on other blogs.

5. ThinkOR

This blog is perhaps one of the best in writing real life Operations Research examples. I really enjoy the thoughtfulness of this blog and writing of this blog. I enjoy reading about ThinkOR's writing style of sifting through real world problems and dictating possible solutions.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Algorithms and Wall Street

The crazy events of Wall Street last week sent off a huge wave of confusion as to the events that led to the sudden drop in stock prices. At first it was thought to be a "fat finger" that cause the decline of major stock indexes. Now the focus is on the large trading farms of computers that are said to make trades by specific rules and algorithms. Now there is a question as to what are the underlying algorithms that these computers are trading. What was thought to be a no brainer of setting trades at the speed of electrons to make a more efficient market is now all being thrown into question.

I do not claim to understand the rules or algorithms that are programmed into these trading computers. Wall Street trading is not my area of expertise. Although I am curious at this overall crisis and how it could be the result of supposed computer rules. The U.S. government is interested also as they are investigating what caused the sudden drop. Can algorithms imposed to trade on a whim cause that much market capitalization to drop out so suddenly. There are claims that market values dropped by nearly 100% on long established companies like Accenture.

I'm definitely going to be following this story closely. I'm curious what the SEC is going to find in their investigation. I'm going to reserve my opinions until more facts are brought forth. Perhaps we may never really know what caused this crisis. I would hope that it is something the Operations Research community could learn. We know that algorithms can be developed to provide great benefits to people and organizations. Yet we hardly ever hear of the times when they can cause great trouble. We can learn from those bad implementations of algorithms. Usually at the heart of it is not so much a bad algorithm but the underlying assumptions of the model. We should know this all to well with the recent mortgage crisis. Perhaps this road to recovery out of this current recession is going to take a lot more time than we thought.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

R has a revolutionary commercial launch

R is going commercial and mainstream thanks to Revolution Analytics. Revolution Analytics, formerly REvolution Computing, is going to take R to the next level in predictive analytics and data mining for enterprise business. Many in the OR blog sphere is reporting on this move as it can mean big changes to the statistical enterprise software market.

Revolution Analytics is going to bridge the academic and business divide by providing solutions that were considered limitations to R in the past. They will be focusing on software enhancements that will be able to handle larger datasets. There is going to be better use of multi-core processing power. There is also going to be improvements to user-interfaces for business analysts.

R is a free and open source software environment for statistical computing and data visualization. I think it is too early to tell what this announcement is going to mean for the statistical enterprise software market. Revolution Analytics has already said that they will be mixing proprietary methods with R. This will be interesting to see how the R community embraces that relationship. R is licensed under the Gnu Public License which is supported by the Free Software Foundation. That is a crowd that does not take too kindly to proprietary software and patents. It will be interesting to follow Revolution Analytics and how they are able to implement their roadmap.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Railways improved by mobilizing Operations Research

A great article by on the values of Operations Research implemented in the Dutch railways. Improvements were able to be realized in train arrivals, passenger utilization in the cars, and operating profit. Many countries were impacted by the improved railway service all across Europe including Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland among others.

The team that implemented the Operations Research strategies for the railway improvement project is lead by Christos Zaroliagis, a professor of Computer Science and Informatics at University of Patras. Christos was part of the team that earned the 2008 Edelman Prize from INFORMS for "The New Dutch Timetable: The O.R. Revolution." The team of the ARRIVAL project is a consortium of several researchers from many European countries.

This is a great example of Operations Research in practice and how OR continues to improve the operations and lives of organizations. I really like sharing stories like this because I don't feel they often get their due respect. There is a lot of research and planning in the background of a good research project, let alone Operations Research, that does not get noticed.