Thursday, March 29, 2012

Neo Lebowski

Do you like both the Matrix and the Big Lebowski? Me, too. This is the best mashup I have seen.

"That rug really tied the Matrix together, man."


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good Operations Research Blogs

Here for your use or amusement is a pretty good list of a baker's dozen very good  blogs on the subject of Operations Research, Management Science, Decision Analysis, Applied Mathematics, Business Analytics, and Value-Focused Thinking.

  1. The Science of Better. There are many places to learn more about operations research. A good place to start is the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), which defines operations research as the “discipline of applying advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions.” 
  2. Veni, Vedi, Duci. Nestler Analytics provides a full range of services in the field of business analytics and operations research. We offer our clients solutions and technologies to turn their available data and information into knowledge that provides a competitive edge.
  3. Punk Rock OR. This blog is maintained by Laura McLay from the Department of Statistical Sciences and Operations Research at Virginia Commonwealth University. This blog highlights interesting applications of operations research and the management sciences, as well as ways in which operations research and systems thinking can make the world a better place.
  4. Analytics in Action. The purpose of this blog is to publish posts showcasing research in operations research and management science (funded research or research recommended to PIC as particularly promising), as well as papers and dissertations recognized for their novelty by being selected as finalists in INFORMS paper competitions. (This includes competitions run by INFORMS societies and sections.)
  5. IEOR Tools.  Maximize productivity with Industrial Engineer and Operations Research tools.
  6. ThinkOR. Think Operations Research is an exchange corner for the OR professionals, an OR information source for the general public
  7. Thoughts on business, engineering and higher education. Aurelie Thiele is a tenured Associate Professor in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She holds a MS and PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.
  8. Sebastian Pokutta's Blog. Mathematics and related topics.
  9. Reflections on Operations Research. We are Patricia and Robert Randall, management and IT consultants with a passion for Operations Research. After completing our MSs and PhDs in Industrial Engineering/Operations Research, we chose to go into consulting so that we could bring the benefits of OR to the business world. In this blog, we will share our thoughts on the influence of OR in both business and everyday life in the hopes of increasing the awareness of the value of operations research. 
  10. Michael Trick’s Operations Research Blog. Thoughts on the world of operations research
  11. free_LUNCH. Vibhav Agarwal is currently a second year MBA student at the Goizueta Business School, Atlanta. His interests are Business, Strategy, Marketing, Finance, Movies, Books, and Sports. 
  12. Decisions and Info-Gaps. This blog discusses, in non-technical terms, issues relating to decisions under uncertainty, especially from an info-gap perspective.
  13. Palisade. A blog by the makers of the world's leading risk and decision analysis software, @RISK and the DecisionTools Suite

I am happy to update this list with your suggestions. Feel free to leave a constructive comment, or three! Alternatively, you may email me at DBDoane["at" symbol]gmail[daught]com.

Carbohydrate-Counting Chart

The folks over at SparkPeople have come up with a  handy carbohydrate estimating chart for people with diabetes who track blood sugar. It can also be used for folks who are looking to lose weight the low-carb way.

I am a beer guy, and I care about my body. So it makes sense to understand the relative merits of what I am eating and drinking, as well as maintaining an appropriate level of activity for balance. Beer doesn't make people fat. Burning fewer calories than one takes in is what does that! So if I want to drink a six pack and still have six-pack abs, I need to manage calories in and calories out.

Are you like me?

  • I love eating and drinking
  • I like working out--though I usually like it best after it's over! 
  • I hate counting calories--it takes the fun out of eating

What I like about the SparkPeople chart is this:

  • I only have to count carbs, not all calories
  • The chart is based on a 15 g serving size, which makes counting easy 
  • The emphasis on carbs means I must eat more veggies to feel full

See the chart and read the article here; Carbohydrate-Counting Chart

My take on the chart is below, for your convenience.

Grains 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Bagel (white or whole wheat) 1/2 of a small
Bread (white or whole wheat) 1 slice (1 ounce)
Bun (white or whole wheat) 1/2 of a small
Crackers, round butter style 6 ea
Dry cereal, unsweetened 3/4 cup
English muffin 1/2 of a small
Hot cereal (oatmeal, grits, etc.) 1/2 cup cooked
Macaroni, noodles, pasta or spaghetti 1/3 cup cooked
Pancakes and waffles 1 (4-inch diameter)
Pizza crust, thin 1/8 of a 12-inch pizza
Rice (white or brown) 1/3 cup cooked
Beans & Legumes 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Baked beans 1/3 cup cooked
Beans (navy, black, pinto, red, etc.) 1/2 cup cooked
Lentils 1/2 cup cooked
Starchy Vegetables 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Baked potato (regular or sweet) 1/2 medium (4 inches long)
Corn 1/2 cup cooked
French fries, regular cut 10-15 fries
Peas 1/2 cup cooked
Winter squash (acorn, butternut, etc.) 1 cup cooked
Vegetable soup 1 cup
Fruits 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Apple 1 small
Banana 1/2 medium
Blackberries/Blueberries 3/4 cup
Canned fruit (in light syrup or juice) 1/2 cup
Cantaloupe 1 cup cubed
Cherries 12 to 15
Grapefruit 1/2 large
Grapes 17 small
Honeydew melon 1 cup
Orange 1 small
Peach 1 small
Pear 1 small
Raspberries 1 cup
Strawberries 1 1/2 cup whole
Watermelon 1 1/4 cup cubed
100% Fruit Juices 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Apple juice 1/2 cup
Cranberry juice 1/3 cup
Grape juice 1/3 cup
Grapefruit juice 1/2 cup
Orange juice 1/2 cup
Pineapple juice 1/2 cup
Dairy Products 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Milk (skim or 1% fat) 1 cup
Yogurt (plain, light or sugar-free) 1 cup
Beverages, Sweets & Snacks 1 Serving = 15 g carbs
Beer 20 oz Light, 16 oz Regular, 12 oz Bold
Chips 0.75 oz
Cookies 2 small
Frozen yogurt, regular 1/2 cup
Ice cream  1/2 cup light, 1/3 cu reg, 1/4 cu topped
Popcorn (plain or air-popped) 3 cups
Pretzels 0.75 oz
Pudding (sugar-free) 1/2 cup
Sorbet 1/4 cu
Spirits (0 carbs but 100 calories per shot) NA
Wine (< 5 carbs and 100 cals per glass) NA

Brewers Association: Craft Brewing Volume Up

I am always glad to pass along the good news about great beer! The Brewers Association just released a report that shows craft beer production increased 13% in the US of A.

Details here: Craft Brewing Volume Hops 13 Percent

I get the Hops 13% joke, but with Easter coming and all, I just didn't have the spirit to repeat the attempted humor. The main message is that craft brewers are thriving even though the big brewers are seeing their  volume decline. So, it's not as if everyone is just drinking more. People are choosing better beer.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mark Madness: The March NCIS Marathon

Fellow fans of the hit TV series, NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service), are doubtless already aware of the March NCIS Marathon, aka Mark Madness, currently running on USA Network. The TV marathon is named in honor of Mark Harmon, the actor who plays Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the popular CBS crime drama currently in its 9th season.

Confession: I have never actually watched a single episode of NCIS live! I have seen maybe 50 episodes, out of the 210 made so far. I like to watch TV late at night, to unwind before I go to bed. So I catch NCIS on the rerun channels. But anyway I started writing down Gibbs' Rules as they were revealed over time.  Not familiar? Here's a little excerpt to whet your appetite:

# Rule: Actual Character Quote: Episode(s):
1 Never let suspects stay together. Gibbs (to Kate): "Rule number one: Never let suspects stay together." 1.01 Yankee White
1 Never screw (over) your partner. Gibbs: "Number one supersedes all of the others." 4.14 Blowback
Jenny: "Never screw your partner?"
Gibbs: "Never screw OVER your partner."
2 Always wear gloves at a crime scene. Gibbs (to Kate)"Rule number two: Always wear gloves at a crime scene." 1.01 Yankee White
3 Don't believe what you're told. Double check. Gibbs: "Rule number three: Don't believe what you're told, double check." 1.01 Yankee White
Kate: "Should I write these rules in my Palm Pilot or crochet them on pillows?"
3 Never be unreachable. Ziva (after trying to reach McGee): "Rule number three..." 3.13 Deception
Tony: "Never be unreachable."
4 If you have a secret, the best thing is to keep it to yourself. The second-best is to tell one other person if you must. There is no third best. Jenny: "It's your fault you know." 4.14 Blowback
Gibbs: "For what, leaving or coming back?" 
Jenny: "For teaching me your rules. Best way to keep a secret, keep it to yourself. Second best, tell one other person... if you must. There is no third best. (walking away) That's rule number four isn't it?"

Of course, I soon discovered that I was not alone in my interest in learning Gibbs' Rules. Naturally the wisdom of the crowd may be found in the cloud. These two sites offered something like the interactive compilation I was searching for:

  • NCIS Fan's NCIS Gibbs Rules HERE
  • NCIS's Leroy Jethro Gibbs Rules HERE

The show airs Tuesdays at 8 / 7 Central on CBS, if you are into the whole real time, one episode per week thing. Who has time to watch TV at 8 pm?

Otherwise, if you are into back-to-back vintage, meet me at USA Network! Set your DVR, and you can watch 3 episodes in only 2 hours by skipping the ads!  

I know, I know--there's always Hulu--but I spend too much time at my computer as it is!

Every man dies; not every man truly lives.

So, there I was, on my Harley, in uniform, mounting up for a ride to the Pentagon. Along comes a mother and her young son, and a couple other children. I presume they were walking to the school bus. They are talking about what the kids want to be when they grow up: doctors and lawyers, mostly. I don't know if the boy saw me at all, but he said he wanted to be a Soldier. Mom said, "Why would you want to do that? You'll just get killed."

Well! The comment felt like a slap. Not only am I here and very much alive, but I know too many brothers in arms who are no longer here and who do not deserve to be dismissed so lightly.

This conversation was certainly within my earshot, and possibly for my "benefit." I was offended, but despite my irritation at the woman's thoughtless, disrespectful, and untrue comment, I decided to let the moment pass peacefully. As the small band walked past, I was reminded of this scene in the movie Braveheart, in which actor Mel Gibson, portraying William Wallace, utters his famous line:

"Every man dies; not every man truly lives."

I saw no need to engage the woman and convince her of the error of her offensive comment in front of the school kids. Perhaps she's just protecting her baby, and I get that. And it's a poor recruiter who attracts the lad by picking a fight with his mom.

But look, I just cannot keep this to myself!

1. People certainly do not join the Army to get killed! They join because they are willing to risk their lives for something they believe in. That and a host of other reasons. In fact, ask 100 Soldiers why they joined and you'll get 101 reasons.

2. Furthermore, the Army does not recruit people to get them killed. The Army recruits people to fight and win our Nation's wars. This is not a risk-free undertaking. But our elected leaders do not send our  military into harm's way unless the benefit to our National security outweighs the risk to our time, talent, and treasure.

3. Finally, all people who do joint the Army do not get killed.

  • Yes, some who join do get killed and others seriously wounded, but becoming a casualty is hardly the inevitable consequence for every single Soldier. 
  • We've had an average of 100 K troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan for 11 years. That's about 400 K individuals who have deployed over two times each on average. Of that number, 6 K died and another 34 K were injured, for a casualty rate of about 10%. 
  • So Mom could have said, "Why would you want to [join the Army]? You'll face a 10% chance of getting killed or injured." 
  • The fact is, even that more accurate statement would have offended me. 

What romantic vision inspired that young man to proclaim his desire to be a Soldier? And what cynical,  ungrateful, or frightened spirit caused his mom to squelch that thought--with me as the training aid? I feel that the real truth lies between the extremes of a child's youthful invincibility and an adult's protective defensiveness.

  • The real truth is that without justice, there will be no peace. 
  • The real truth is that to avoid being taken advantage of, one must have a strong defense. 
  • The real truth is that some things really are worth fighting for. 

Every human dies. However, living to merely avoid death another day is not really living at all. What is the purpose of a life if there is not even one thing worth fighting, dying, or possibly even killing for?

I pray for the end of all war, and the end to tyranny and injustice, and the beginning of lasting global harmony and peace. The hard reality of the human condition is this: the more people listen to, and talk like, the mother I overheard, the more people refuse to sacrifice for peace, the longer we will have to wait for it. Burying our heads in the sand is no way to bring about positive social change.

Peace is under the shade of swords.

Happy Born On Day, Beer Hunter

Connoisseur, Writer, Advocate 

Michael Jackson
The Beer Hunter

March 27, 1942 to August 30, 2007

Rest In Peace

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Local DC Breweries and Brewpubs

Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway), offers this compilation of brewers in DC and environs.

Well done! 

Friday, March 23, 2012


Demetri Martin on WhoSay

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"i thank you god for most this amazing day..."

The sound of the great poet reading his poem was recorded in 1953.

My annual tribute to e. e. cummings is inspired by the entry for today, March 22, in Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening. Here is a link to the passage:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Twitter Digest No. 3

An occasional feature composed of sweet Tweets

 Nathan Yau 
Rethinking the food nutrition label 


24 Season Three

Season 3: Oct 2003—May 2004. Threat of a deadly virus released into LA. Virus is released inside a sealed fridge. Palmer decides against running for re-election.

Season 3 kicked off in October 2003. On 13 December, then-Major General Ray Odierno, commander of 4th Infantry Division, pulled Saddam Hussein out of his spider hole. In April 2004, Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan.

Beginning in 2004, accounts of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including torture, rape, sodomy, and homicide of prisoners held in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (also known as Baghdad Correctional Facility) came to public attention. These acts were committed by military police personnel of the United States Army together with additional US governmental agencies.

The Taguba Report (marked SECRET // NOFORN) was leaked in May 2004. The report was interesting for many reasons, not the least of which was the clear detailing of the multiple failings of a  feckless chain of command. Read more here:

BG Karpinski [commander of the MP Brigade in charge of Abu Ghraib] was extremely emotional during much of her testimony. What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its Soldiers.  

I was in London in June 2004 and saw the infamous poster. You know the one. The image was on the cover of Time magazine. However, in this instance, and on a major London thoroughfare, the poster was one of those image-shifting posters which started as the Statue of Liberty, but as you walked along, morphed to a hooded Iraqi detainee holding wires. I remember feeling so ashamed at how our allies, the Brits, were portraying us.

BG Karpinski avoided a court martial, was reduced in grade to COL and allowed to voluntarily retire. MG Taguba, author of the Taguba Report, was forced to retire in 2006. Why? Some say he was forced to retire because the truth hurts.

Real life makes 24 look tame.

Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class

From comes this story:  Apple, America and a Squeezed Middle Class

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

What remains unknown, however, is whether the United States will be able to leverage tomorrow’s innovations into millions of jobs.
In the last decade, technological leaps in solar and wind energy, semiconductor fabrication and display technologies have created thousands of jobs. But while many of those industries started in America, much of the employment has occurred abroad. Companies have closed major facilities in the United States to reopen in China. By way of explanation, executives say they are competing with Apple for shareholders. If they cannot rival Apple’s growth and profit margins, they won’t survive.
“New middle-class jobs will eventually emerge,” said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist. “But will someone in his 40s have the skills for them? Or will he be bypassed for a new graduate and never find his way back into the middle class?”
"The Chinese government had agreed to underwrite costs for numerous industries, and those subsidies had trickled down to the glass-cutting factory [that did the work for Apple]." No doubt much of the other benefits China offers Apple are also courtesy of the Chinese government.


Is this a condemnation of our education system? Or is this an indication that all we really did after the Civil War was push our slavery overseas?

Does Brainstorming Really Work?

Image: The New Yorker

I have fashioned myself as a bit of a brainstorming expert. As an architecture student, Army officer, parent, Lean Six Sigma practitioner, PhD student, operations research analyst, author, and speaker, I have found brainstorming an indispensable part of my creative process.  When one turns off the analytical part of one's brain, ideas flow more freely. In group sessions, I have found that telling people to pretend they are kids again is a great way to fill a white board with ideas, some of which will later prove inspirational.

So, imagine my surprise when, today on NPR's Fresh Air, I heard guest Jonah Lehrer say that brainstorming has been debunked. It doesn't work, and we've known it for 50 years. Really?

During most of the NPR program, Lehrer was promoting his new book about imagination and creativity in the workplace. The comment about brainstorming comes at the very end of the program. You can listen to the interview here:

'Imagine' That: Fostering Creativity In The Workplace

Interestingly, I jumped on my computer as soon as I heard Lehrer's comment about brainstorming, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, just seconds after the interview, but these words from Dave Pell, the famous purveyor of the world's most interesting news:

Creativity Through Ping Pong

People are a lot more likely to have creative thought if they're relaxed and in a good mood. For most people, that's the opposite of the state of mind while they're at work. But some companies like 3M are trying to foster creativity by giving employees free time to do whatever they feel like doing. Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, breaks it down: "If you're an engineer working on a problem and you're stumped by your technical problem, chugging caffeine at your desk and chaining yourself to your computer, you're going to be really frustrated. You're going to waste lots of time. You may look productive, but you're actually wasting time. Instead, at that moment, you should go for a walk. You should play some ping-pong. You should find a way to relax." There's a lot of interesting stuff in Lehrer's Fresh Air interview. So check it out ... or don't and just chill.

Of course, my next move was to search "jonah+lehrer+brainstorming" which is how I discovered the January 2012 New Yorker article in which Lehrer debunks the brainstorming myth.


The brainstorming myth.

Jan 30, 2012
Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.

Read more 
Brainstorming Doesnt Really Work : The New Yorker

In the interest of objectivity, I also found Randy Olson's pro-brainstorming blog response to the Lehrer article. You can read Olson's post, "Jonah Lehrer Takes a Narrow (and faulty) Look at Brainstorming in this week’s New Yorker," dated February 3rd, 2012, at his blog, The Benshi, by clicking HERE

These are a few of my favorite things:

and yes,

VFT Redux

Recently, I posted a quote from Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, aka ZAMM, and opined that this quote summed up the Value-Focused Thinking (VFT) concept perfectly.

"The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands."

Heart, head, hands. Values, plans, actions. Perfect. So nice. Lovely, really, and inspirational. Words to live by. As a VFT scholar-practitioner, I then paraphrased Mr Pirsig's approach thusly: 

  • Start with values
  • Make a plan
  • Grade results against values, not against the plan

To my mind, this 3-step approach is VFT in a nutshell! I don't know whether Ralph Keeney, the father of VFT, read or was influenced by ZAMM, but to my mind it's as if ZAMM (1974) presaged VFT (1992).  The plan is derived top-down from values, not bottom-up from problems. Therefore values, not plans, should govern actions. Conformance to values, not conformance to plans, should be the standard for results. In fact, one could go a step further and say that results reflect values!  

We use our brains when we compare alternatives and when we make plans. However, identifying the most important problems, defining expected outcomes, and allocating resources across the system are, or ought to be, matters of the heart.

In the same post, I made a direct relationship between Pirsig's "heart, head, and hands" language, and Keeney's "values, plans, and actions (or results)" language of Value-Focused Thinking.  With the following bullet points, I explicitly connected Pirsig and Keeney, point by point: heart and values; head and plans; and hands and actions.
  • Values (Heart). Get the values right or the numbers don't matter.
  • Plan (Head). Get the numbers right, or the results don't matter.
  • Action (Hands). Execute the plan and get results that matter.

I solicited comments, and Chicago Diva obliged, saying, in part: 

"I'm missing something here... I get the heart, head, hands thing... but the middle "Plan" somehow messes with my sense of logic in trying to follow it... If you have the values right - but values aren't mentioned in "Plan", then where is the values to plan/action?"

I thought Chicago Diva's comment warranted a more visible blog post, rather than a private comment response. So, here we are. To answer Chicago Diva's query, it's helpful to walk the logic back from the end to the beginning.
  • The aim is "results that matter"--not just any results that might come from filling the time, but billable results, valued results, results that make a difference by satisfying a value gap. 
  • One gets those impactful results by executing a plan--not just any plan, but a data-fueled plan, one that is transparent--one that can be adjusted to the changing situation. Transparency and flexibility require a common language--the language of numbers.
  • This plan is not a bottom-up or reactionary response to a short-term problem. Rather, the plan follows, top-down, from values. Value gaps identify the problems. Values then drive competitive resource allocation decisions. Ultimately, values are reflected in results.

Now I will bring in the voice of Ralph Keeney, creator of Value-Focused Thinking. Dr. Keeney makes a distinction between bottom-up, alternative-focused thinking and top-down, value-focused thinking. Many problem solvers and decision makers, Keeney says, will encounter a problem and immediately set out to find alternative solutions. We all do this. For example, you notice you need to replace the  tires on your car. You immediately think about alternatives for comparison. You consider new or retread, style, performance, driving habits, and price. These and other variables will help you weigh the alternatives and make a choice. 

This alternative-focused thinking, and it's very common. It's stimulus and response thinking. It is essentially context-free thinking, or thinking from the inside out. A systems approach such as VFT stands opposed to alternative thinking by orienting from the outside in.  VFT is long-range, strategic, or top-down--from the general to the specific. The issue Keeney describes is that a decision-maker might spend energy, time, and dollars on buying tires when his own values would require a different allocation of those constrained resources if he used a systems approach.  

This alternative-focused approach leads to a number of shortcomings. Often, people will take action to fix a problem before understanding the effects of the fix on the system. There is also the fact that focusing from the inside out, a person will fail to notice bigger problems.

Keeney goes on to describe value-focused thinking as a completely different paradigm. There are no problems, only decision opportunities. Decision opportunities come from all angles, but not all are of the same importance. A tool Keeney calls a Qualitative Value Model helps a decision maker anticipate value gaps and create solutions to decision opportunities. 

It is apparent that shared values are at the top because those top-down values will define which problems are important, which solutions are best, what direction we are headed, and to what end. Values should come first--individual, team, or corporate Values--then Plans, then Actions. 

Again, I love how Pirsig said it:

"The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands."

I admit that Chicago Diva's comment helped me see that my trilogy response contains a  breakdown in the flow. The third line does not really convey the idea that true values are reflected in final results:

  • Get the values right or the numbers don't matter. (Check.)
  • Get the numbers right or the results don't matter. (OK, But what happened to Plans?)
  • Execute the plan and get results that matter.  (Makes sense but doesn't flow.)
How about 
  • Get the results right, or the values don't matter. (Flows but doesn't make sense. And the second bullet needs something about Plans....)

To address Chicago Diva's point more explicitly, I propose the following re-stated bullets:
  • Values (Heart). Get the Values right, or the Numbers don't matter.
  • Plan (Head). Get the Numbers right, or the Plan doesn't matter.
  • Action (Hands). Get the Plan right, or the Results don't matter.

Results Reflect Values 

Does this help? Comments welcome!

H/T: Chicago Diva

Links to books cited:
Keeney (1992) VFT
Pirsig (1974) ZAMM