Monday, December 31, 2007

Free Trade

In the past, I tended to ignore news about economics and trade agreements. But since learning more about Adam Smith, I'm beginning to understand, and it's become more interesting.

On Wednesday, December 26, 2007, The Washington Post had two items related to free trade: the first was an article describing how free trade is helping some American manufacturers by increasing their opportunities to export goods. The article includes examples of American firms that make high-quality goods. A supervisor at a plant that makes and exports precision valves states:
It wasn't that long that guys looked at globalization like it is going to cause us all to lose our jobs. Now it's probably going to save our jobs.
However, will the trend towards free trade last? Or will countries pursue political interests by restricting trade (perhaps Russia will refuse to export oil to Europe)? That is the question raised by Robert J. Samuelson in an op-ed in the Post the same day. He argues that a rising tide of nationalism has some countries moving away from global trade and economic interdependence and reverting to mercantilism (the policy that Adam Smith attacked).

Not all are convinced. In today's paper, Clyde Prestowitz, a U.S. trade negotiator in the Reagan administration, criticizes both these items and adds:
America has pursued free trade, but mercantilism has been the secret of the Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Irish and other economic miracles. There has never been an era of global free trade.

The Seventh Day of Christmas


We're halfway through the 12 days of Christmas. We've eaten over half of the fruitcake. Here is a photo of the nativity that I made this year; I'll take it down on Epiphany.

Today we visited the Renwick Gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While not on the Mall, like many of the museums, it is not too far away. The Renwick is on Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. We were there to see the Going West! Quilts and Community exhibition, which had dozens of antique quilts with a wide variety of patterns and colors and themes. There was one with concentric heptagons (not a typical quilt pattern), and another made of old ties. My favorites, however, used traditional quilt patterns: a nine-patch and a blazing star.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Sound of Music

Laury gave me The Sound of Music Companion for Christmas. So far, it is a fascinating look at the story of the real von Trapp family (which Maria von Trapp described in her memoir, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers), the creation of the Broadway musical, and the making of the wonderful movie.

In the story of the von Trapp family, more interesting than the differences between the real family and the stage and movie ones (and there are many) are the facts that remained the same: a would-be nun goes to tutor the child of an Austrian naval officer, the children were excellent singers who performed at a Salzburg music festival, a family retainer was a Nazi, the father was offered a post in the Germany navy, and the family fled from Austria using a ruse.

The von Trapps were a popular singing group in America after World War II. After the family's music career ended in the mid-1950's, Maria and three of the children went to New Guinea to become Catholic missionaries. Others ran the family farm in Vermont.

The transformation of Maria's best-selling memoir into a successful Broadway musical and a major motion picture is the story of systems designed to produce successes. A German film version of the memoir came to the attention of a director who showed it to Mary Martin (who would play Maria on stage). She and her husband convinced a friend to be the producer, and he hired well-established writers to write the script and Rodgers and Hammerstein to do the music. Similarly, the movie had an experienced director, a successful screenwriter, and a talented leading lady (Julie Andrews, who had just finished Mary Poppins).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Faculty Politics

The Outlook section of the December 9, 2007, Washington Post included a column by Robert Maranto, an associate professor of political science at Villanova University. The column discusses the political correctness of American universities and the evidence that university faculty are more likely to be Democrats than Republicans. The article cites work by Daniel B. Klein, Carlotta Stern, and Andrew Western, among others. You can find two of their relevant articles in the journal Academic Questions, Volume 18, Number 1, Winter 2004/2005. The first surveyed voting behavior among faculty in six disciplines: anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, political science, and sociology. They found 909 faculty who said that they voted either mostly for Democrats or mostly for Republicans. In economics, the ratio was 3 Democrats to 1 Republican; in sociology and anthropology, it was around 30 D to 1 R. They conclude:
In discussing the one-big-pool D to R ratio for the social sciences and humanities, 7 to 1 is safe lower bound estimate, and 8 to 1 or 9 to 1 are reasonable point estimates.
The second paper looks at the voter registration of tenure-track faculty at Cal-Berkeley and Stanford in four areas:
  • Social Sciences: Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology.
  • Humanities: English, French and Italian, History, Linguistics, Music, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.
  • Hard Sciences and Math: Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Neurobiology/Neurology, and Physics.
  • Professional schools and departments: Civil and Environmental Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Law, Journalism, Accounting, and Marketing.
They found no information for about 30% of the faculty. Almost 50% of the faculty were registered Democrats, and over 5% were registered Republicans. The other 15% were split among the Green party, non-partisan, declined to name a party, and others. The overall D to R ratio was 8.9 D to 1 R. The social sciences total ratio was 13.6 D to 1 R, the humanities were 21.9 D to 1 R, the hard sciences and math were 7.6 D to 1 R, and the professional schools were 4.5 D to 1 R. The two engineering departments had the lowest ratios of any group and were just over 3 D to 1 R. The authors conclude that universities demonstrate "extreme lopsidedness."

When I first read Maranto's article, I was sure that the D to R ratio was smaller in engineering, and the above data confirm that suspicion. But Republicans are still out-numbered, surprisingly, and the business school is no different.

Maranto, citing these and other similar results, argues that universities need to encourage intellectual diversity (not just ethnic and racial diversity) in order to reestablish meaningful debate on campus and to recliam their importance in society.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, and Gutter Cleaning

On Tuesday I drove from Maryland to Piscataway, New Jersey, to give a talk in the Fall 2007 Seminar series at the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rutgers University. It was 180 miles each way, and I listened to a book on tape about Adam Smith and his masterpiece of economics, the Wealth of Nations, in which he argues that, by each person's looking out only for his own self-interests, the actions and decisions of many persons (as if guided by "an invisible hand") form a rational economic system that maximizes the wealth of a society. Part of the emergent behavior is that persons will find that specialization is their best chance of success. (Another aspect is the appearance and adoption of a currency that does not lose value and can be divided into very small portions.)

Those ideas of specialization and of self-interest were very real today, as the guy cleaning the neighbor's gutters knocked on our door and wanted to know if we needed his services as well. Actually, we did need our gutters cleaned (and I don't do gutters). So it was a win-win: he earned some income doing something in which he specializes, and we got our gutters cleaned while I graded papers.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Children of Hurin

I recently finished reading J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, which I greatly enjoyed. The younger Tolkien put together the story from manuscripts that his father left.

The story is set in Middle-earth in the years long before the events of The Lord of the Rings. The Silmarillion tells the complete story of those times, but it is more of an overview or history. The Children of Hurin, however, is a tale with great detail. It is full of interesting characters, including Men, Elves, Dwarves, and a dragon. Certainly it can be read without knowing anything of the Silmarillion.

The story is a tragedy that centers around Turin, Hurin's eldest son, a heroic leader who finds many misfortunes due to his arrogance, rashness, anger, and pride. The other children are Turin's two sisters. Nienor has a major role, but she, like Turin, has inherited similar unfortunate traits from their parents, Hurin and Morwen. Turin and Nienor hate evil and act with great courage and love; they earn our admiration and affection.

But they make decisions based on strong emotions and misinformation. The promise of a bad ending grows; and there they travel, due to their faults and the deceptions of evil ones, unintentionally hurting many others as they go.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Marriage

Yesterday's Washington Post had an article about the murder-suicide of a Maryland family of five on Thanksgiving afternoon. Apparently, the ex-husband murdered his ex-wife and their three kids (ages 12, 10, and 6) at a park in Montgomery County. The story reports on the constant conflict and hostility between the divorced couple. It is a sad story.

Reading it made me go back and read a book review in the December, 2007, issue of First Things. The book was Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age, by Kay S. Hymowitz. According to the review, the book describes the damaging impact that divorce has on children; they are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, to perform poorly in school, to be a crime victim or a criminal, and to be poor. The book argues that the poor and working class in America no longer value marriage or the values associated with it, and this is a significant cause of their poverty and other problems. Finally, the book describes how middle- and upper-class Americans have maintained the traditional link between marriage and family and reap the benefits of two-parent families. Trends in unmarried motherhood and divorce depend greatly upon level of education, a change from forty years ago.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Fruitcake Friday



Yesterday was fruitcake day. One of our family's traditions is Christmas fruitcake. Because we won't get to Florida for Christmas, we make our own. It has to be made ahead of time, and it seems that the Friday after Thanksgiving is always a convenient day to do it. The recipe is a nut-free version of my Grandma Barthle's fruitcake; it includes candied fruit (from Paradise Inc. in Plant City), raisins, dates, spices, and standard cake ingredients. Colleen helped me assemble and mix it, and then it went into the oven for three hours; you can see the result above. Today we'll inject some blackberry wine into it and wrap it up. Next week it gets more wine, and then we wait until Christmas to cut it.

We also worked on the new nativity scene, which will have four panels depicting the birth of Christ. Yesterday I cut the panels, drilled holes for brackets, and sketched some details of the figures' faces.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

A happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I hope that you get to enjoy your favorite Thanksgiving Day traditions: going to church to get food blessed, watching the Macy's parade from New York, listening to Alice's Restaurant, cooking something good for dinner, enjoying turkey and stuffing and potatoes, watching the Lions lose and the Cowboys win, playing some football in the backyard, whatever makes this day special.

We had a nice Thanksgiving Eve yesterday - we went with Jill and Dan and their kids to Annapolis to visit the U.S. Naval Academy and the Maryland State House. The weather was sunny and warm - it hit a record 73 at BWI airport. The only negative was we discovered that the City Dock location of the Fractured Prune Donut Shoppe is no longer there.

For many other things we have great reason to give thanks. God has blessed us with a wonderful family, great friends, terrific neighbors, and good health. We are very fortunate to live where we do and to have the opportunities that we have. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone this day.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

What do I do?

Today was a good example of what I do (besides teach class): First I participated in a Ph.D. dissertation defense for a student in our reliability engineering graduate program. That lasted a couple of hours.

Then I met with Dan Fitzgerald, who is working at Black & Decker and on his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and discussed his progress on his research (he was on campus to give a guest lecture on design for the environment in ENME 472, our senior capstone design course).

After that I met with three QUEST students on a team in the BMGT/ENES 490H course. I am the team's faculty advisor. The students are working with Lockheed Martin on a spreadsheet tool for evaluating the financial aspects of facility improvements that reduce energy and water consumption.

After eating lunch, I drove across campus to the Van Munching Building give a guest lecture in BMGT/ENES 190H, another core course in the QUEST program. My lecture was on DFX (Design for X). I had some Powerpoint slides and had the students do an in-class exercise on DFX related to their project (which involves designing a product, software, or service).

Then I drove to the University of Maryland Medical Center in downtown Baltimore to meet with faculty and hospital managers about using operations research to help them improve their processes. That was over by 4:30 p.m. When I left traffic was bad and various roads were closed, so it took longer than normal to get home. (Fortunately I was not trying to go north from Baltimore; a big accident earlier in the day completely closed I-95 in that direction for most of the afternoon.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Word of the Day

Eleemosynary, adjective (pronunciation: ell-lee-MOSS-in-AIR-ee): of, relating to, or supported by charity (according to Merriam-Webster online). Use in a sentence: "Private-equity investment companies are not eleemosynary institutions. They are in business to make money, not to give it away." (Warren Brown, November 11, 2007.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Leo the Great

According to my St. James Calendar of the Christian Year, today is the feast day of St. Leo the Great, a pope (Pope Leo I) and a Doctor of the Church. Leo died on November 10, 461. He was pope for 21 years (one of the ten longest papacies) during an important time in church history. He defended the primacy of Rome and wrote many influential letters and sermons.

Of course, my interest in St. Leo is highly correlated with the importance of Saint Leo University to my family, where numerous relatives, including my mom and dad and their siblings, went to school. For example, last month, my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Eddie were presented with the Florida Benedictine Spirit Award for "their uncommon dedication to Saint Leo Abbey, Holy Name Monastery and Saint Leo University."

According to the university, Saint Leo was chartered in 1889 and was the first Catholic college in Florida (this was soon after the city of San Antonio, Florida, and other towns in the area such as St. Joseph were started.) It was originally a college, then a prep school (from 1921 to 1964), and then again a college (from 1959).

In other news related to east Pasco County, you may want to plan to attend the Kumquat Festival, which will be January 26, 2008, in Dade City. The festival was mentioned in the November, 2007, issue of Spirit, the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Leaving Seattle

On Tuesday morning I left Seattle early in the morning. I was at the airport by 4 AM for my 6:35 AM flight. It was a foggy morning, and there was little traffic. At the airport there were few people and no staff at the Southwest ticket counter, where I needed to print my boarding pass. The two available kiosks for that task were not working, for some reason. So I went to find some breakfast (a muffin and some chocolate milk from Starbucks) and then came back around 4:30. They were still inoperative, and there were two guys standing and waiting. Eventually some staff appeared, and one lady started them, so we could print our boarding passes and get through security.

The climb out of Seattle was beautiful - the sun was just rising over the mountains, which appeared to be islands in the white fog that obscured the city and the water.

My plane stopped in Chicago-Midway and then continued onto BWI. Not changing planes meant not having to wait in line to board a second time, but it also had one drawback - I didn't have a chance to buy lunch!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Postcard from Seattle

It a foggy morning here in Seattle, where I'm attending the INFORMS Annual Meeting. I had a talk yesterday afternoon after I arrived and two more today on my work on mass vaccination clinics. Mostly I'll be attending sessions on health care operations research. I don't have time or plans to see much of the city, which I visited once before a few years ago on a trip to see a naval facility in the area. I do plan to have lunch with a former classmate who is doing some interesting scheduling research, and we'll see if there is something on which we can collaborate. Yesterday I had a nice conversation with an expert on health care operations and got some useful suggestions and insights into the area. These types of activities (not the sightseeing) are why I keep going to such conferences, and I'm glad to have the opportunity (though I'll continue to grumble about the west coast locations)!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rain and Victor Hugo

Rain is falling steadily outside. After thirty-something days without rain, we are getting our fair share this week. Weather.com reports only 0.01 inches yesterday, but we'll get much more than that today, with a forecast of over an inch in the next day and a half.

It is a pleasant-sounding rain, if that makes any sense, with no thunder or wind, just rain. It almost sounds like a creek in the North Carolina mountains, though the intensity does sometimes slightly increase, unlike the unvarying music of a creek. A good rain for taking a nap.

The rain did slow traffic this evening on my way home (along with an accident on MD 450 just outside Bowie), so I made it to the end of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame before I made it home. It is an extremely good novel, though quite sad. The flaws of the characters (including those with power and education) lead to ruin, though there are also figures of innocence and of virtue. Quasimodo is an especially good man, who exemplifies the incredible difference between outer beauty and inner goodness. Especially inspiring is Hugo's description of Quasimodo's care for the innocent outcast Esmerelda, who will not return his love and who is indeed afraid of him and his misshapen body.

Otherwise, the novel is an excellent introduction to fifteenth-century Paris and its inhabitants, in the years just before Columbus discovered America. It covers life from the King of France to the judicial courts to the noble families to vagabonds and thieves.

For more about Hugo and his life, the August/September 2007 issue of First Things included The Sacred Heart of Victor Hugo, an article about Hugo and Les Miserables.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Air Force scheduling error

At the end of August, a U.S. Air Force B-52 took six nuclear weapons from North Dakota to Louisiana. The Washington Post reported Saturday that the Air Force has finished its investigation into the error. According to the article, Air Force Major General Richard Newton said that the problems began with a breakdown in the formal scheduling process. The crew loading the airplane used an outdated paper schedule instead of referring to the electronic scheduling system, so the crew loaded the wrong cruise missiles. The loading crew and others also failed to perform required safety procedures.

As someone who studies production scheduling, this case highlights the interesting nature of scheduling systems, which are complex decision-making processes. The use of informal methods or shortcuts is widespread in scheduling systems. Printing out the schedule a few days ahead of time and using that (instead of getting the most recent schedule from the software) is probably widespread. Of course, that doesn't excuse the behavior, especially when one is dealing with nuclear weapons. It just points out that scheduling systems are only as effective as they are actually used, not as they are necessarily designed.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gopher tortoises

On Sunday the Washington Post had an article about gopher tortoises and how developers in Florida were given permits allowing them to build over the animals' holes without moving them, essentially burying them alive. Fortunately, no more such permits are being issued.

On that topic, if it's October, it's time for the San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival, which is always the third Saturday of the month (this year that's October 20 and 21). We raced a lot of gopher tortoises there when I was a kid.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Columbus Day

For Columbus Day weekend, Laury, Colleen, and I went to visit some family. Laury's mom went with us on our flight to Houston, where we rented a car (a nice silver Pontiac Grand Prix with the Neverlost navigation system) and drove to Fort Polk, Louisiana, to visit with John, Carrie, Kyle, and Katrin. I-10 was nothing special, but we left the highway at Sulphur, La., and traveled north on LA-27 through some small towns and woods of pine trees. It reminded me of central Florida, I even saw a cypress stand. No oak trees or Spanish moss in that part of Louisiana, however.

On Sunday we left Mom with John and Carrie and returned to Houston via Woodville, Texas (just west of Jasper). We met Karen at her townhouse, which faces a grassy courtyard (instead of the typical layout facing a parking lot or street). She has a small rat terrier named Pippin, who is extremely quick. Then we were out to have dinner with Kevin, Stephanie, Ben, and Zachary.

The next day we went to the Children's Museum of Houston, which had, among its exhibits, a Mexican village (Colleen put math problems on the blackboard of the school), a television studio (where she did the weather report in a parka and hat), and an exhibit with replicas of works by Marc Chagall. The last of those reminded me that, in some art history class I took somewhere in college, we had to study Chagall. At the museum, an actor impersonating Christopher Columbus was busy greeting everyone in the main hall.

Home again on Tuesday, where Maryland was having one last episode of summer weather. (We are back to autumn today, buying pumpkins and apples and raking leaves.)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Global Warming

Global warming is in the news - Albert Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won a Nobel Peace Prize. However, a British judge noted that Gore's film has nine errors. The blog The Fact Checker discusses this ruling and provides links to more about it, including a link to the text of the British judge's ruling.

Just this week, I received at work a letter and some material from the Global Warming Petition Project, which is encouraging American scientists to sign a petition against the Kyoto protocol's limits on green gases. The petition also states that there is no convincing scientific evidence that the human release of greenhouse gases is causing global warming. Moreover, the warming that is occurring will have benefits to the environment. Accompanying the letter is an article that reviews the scientific literature on the environmental effects of increased atmospheric CO2. (I am concerned about the economic impacts of CO2 limits - see previous post on conservation - but don't plan to sign the petition; U.S. ratification of Kyoto appears to be unlikely.)

After a Google search on this project, it seems that the petition project has been around for nearly ten years (the Kyoto protocol was passed in December, 1997). I also found Clouds of Conspiracy: Is Media Bias Real? Look No Further Than Global Warming, an article in Salvo magazine, which is published by The Fellowship of St. James, the folks who bring us Touchstone, the Journal of Mere Christianity. The article, by Raymond J. Keating, concludes: "The point here is not whether global warming is truly occurring, but whether the media covers the topic in a fair and complete fashion, which they do not."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday in the Park with Jeffrey

We went to Downs Park this afternoon. It was a wonderful end-of-September day, sunny, dry, warm but not hot, and there were many families there enjoying the playground and walking or bicycling down the paths that wind through the woods. There was also a car show, with modified Civics and low-rider pickups on display, and a loud MC at the amphitheater. Colleen explored the playground, and then we went for a walk, stopping by the overlook, which has a great view of the Chesapeake Bay looking across towards Rock Hall, in Kent County on the Eastern Shore. We also visited the aviary, which is home to a couple of owls and a hawk, and the more formal Mother's Garden, with brick walks and covered paths.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Christianity and History

I read an interesting post on Christianity and history over at On the Square (the First Things blog). In it, Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, talks about the fact that the Bible, unlike the holy books of other religions, is a history that tells the story of things that happened. He goes on to talk about what it means to be a Christian and states:
Christian love is not weak or anesthetic. It’s an act of the will. It takes guts. It’s a deliberate submission of our selfishness to the needs of others.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Heart of the County Fair

Today we headed to the Anne Arundel County Fair at the county fairgrounds on Generals Highway just north of Annapolis. We walked by the booths selling stuff or promoting something or someone. We visited the barns with the prize-winning poultry and livestock. We saw the kids in white pants and white shirts showing their cows. We ate ice cream and popcorn and drank lemonade and water. Colleen rode down a big slide and round-and-round the merry-go-round.

All of that was fun, but, for us, the heart of the fair is the exhibit hall, with the plates of fruit and vegetables (lots of red peppers, for some reason), the gigantic watermelon (193 pounds!) and pumpkins, the 4-H projects, the walls hung with photographs and artwork and needlepoint, the quilts hanging above like championship banners, the rows of jellies and preserves and honey and porcelain: things that people planned and made and brought to the fair.

Laury and Colleen are learning how to quilt, so the quilts on display got a lot of our attention this year - they recognized familiar patterns and saw some truly unique creations. All of the quilts were well-done; some were more attractive than others, of course. In all of them we recognized the hours of hard work that go into making something; they were inspiring. We make things and want someone to see them; we want someone to say that it is good. The exhibit hall is the heart of the county fair for it contains the objects into which people have put their brains and muscles and skill and care.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Education

Education and Our Witness to Christ is the title of a post by Charles J. Chaput (the archbishop of Denver) at the First Things blog. (It was adapted from the homily that he have at the inauguration Mass for Wyoming Catholic College.)

Chaput first affirms a realist position in considering why very smart people do evil things:
I think we can find the answer to that question in another of my favorite thoughts from Chesterton. He said that when a man stops believing in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing; he believes in anything. Events have proved him right. The historian and poet Robert Conquest wrote that a central flaw of the twentieth century was the addiction of educated men and women to “big ideas” divorced from reality and results. In a healthy mind, big ideas get tested against reality. If they don’t work, they get dumped. But the lunatic mind breaks and reshapes reality to fit the big idea.


He then goes on to describe the most important attributes of education:
It’s the content, the purpose, and the result of an education that count. And that’s why a truly Catholic education is so crucial. The doctrines and structures of our Catholic faith are there for very good reasons. They’re vitally important because they form us and sustain us as a believing community. ... But the heart of being a Catholic is not a set of ideas. It’s a person—the person of Jesus Christ. The goal of a Catholic life is meeting, loving, and following Jesus Christ.


The last part of his post discusses what a real relationship with God looks like, and how it we prove it by our actions, by keeping His commandments. And education is important to that:
The vocation of every Christian life is to change the world: to open the eyes of the world and to bring the world to Jesus Christ. And the role of Catholic education is to give students the zeal, the faith, and the intellectual depth to do that.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wow is not necessary good

It's early Thursday morning here in Las Vegas, where I am attending the ASME Design Engineering Technical Conference at one of the big hotel-casinos. It is my first trip here. I never had any desire to visit Las Vegas, and, now that I'm here, that hasn't changed.

Las Vegas is Spanish for the Meadows (according the city history posted on Wikipedia). From my hotel room I have a view to the south. The sunrise is illuminating the mountains to the south and west of town. It would be a scene of rugged beauty if it weren't for another high rise hotel across the street ruining the view.

The city strikes me as entirely artificial. The presence of water got it started as a water stop for the trains, and then the Hoover Dam (which I saw as our plane was approaching town) made a big impact in the early 1930's. But, of course, the primary engine of growth is the presence of the casinos. And the casinos pretend to be other places: Rio de Janiero, New York, Egypt, a southern California beach, a medieval castle in Europe, and so forth.

The opportunities to gamble, shop, and be entertained are numerous here and start as soon as one exits the gate at the airport. The baggage claim is full of billboards for shows and casinos.

Walking into the hotel here was like walking into a huge video game arcade - lots of flashing lights, music, people sitting at machines. The hotel is like a small shopping mall, with restaurants, shops, and shows, all around the central gaming area. Where a normal hotel lobby would have chairs and tables for waiting and chatting, this place has slot machines. It is overwhelming but not pleasant. Wow, but not good.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Introducing the Edsel

Today's Washington Post had an article by Peter Carlson about the Edsel, which Ford introduced in 1957. The Edsel was actually an entire line of cars aimed at a more middle-class market (like Buick). It flopped because the actual car couldn't live up to the marketing hype. The article discusses in detail the marketing research and marketing tricks that Ford used during the development of the car.

The theme of American manufacturing firms ignoring product quality and manufacturing operations in favor of marketing is discussed in Factory Physics (by Hopp and Spearman), the text for my production management course. The Edsel is a great example.

Of course, there are those that love the Edsel, which is now a collector item, since only 100,000 vehicles (approximately) were sold. See, for instance, www.edsel.com.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The End of the Season

In this part of the country, even though the kids have been going to school for at least a week (depending on the county) Labor Day marks the end of summer in one very definite way: it is the last day that community and public outdoor pools are open.

So we went to the pool today: it was perfect weather - sunny and warm and dry. The pool was crowded, and Colleen played with a girl who lives in our neighborhood and saw one of her friends from school. Then it was time to come home and put away the swim stuff until next summer.

I'll miss swimming, but Sunday evening basketball at the school will be starting soon!

Friday, August 31, 2007

More of the Life of Meaning

Here are some selected observations on religion and prayer from The Life of Meaning.

In the chapter "The Soul is Hovering," Rochel Berman describes tahara, a Jewish ritual of washing and purifying a dead body. Those who perform this ritual are members of Chevra Kadish, the burial society, which an example of how death organizes society (see my previous post on that topic).

Carol and Philip Zaleski have studied the history of prayer, and their chapter mentions that one of Gandhi's favorite prayers was "Lead Kindly Light," by John Henry Newman. (Here are links to the lyrics and some stories about Newman.) The prayer, also a hymn, is a classic asking God to lead one step-by-step, relinquishing control over one's life, with the hope of heaven ahead.

Phyllis Tickle prays the divine office (also known as the Liturgy of the Hours) every three hours. The prayers are taken from the Psalms and other verses from the Bible. She reveals "it roots me. It makes me part of a much larger communion. ... These are fixed prayers that have been used for thousands of years, so that you know that you are part of a continuous stream of the word of God."

Eileen Durkin gives an interesting description of the Mass, explaining every part of it and discussing what it means to her. For instance, the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.) is, for her, a reminder to reset her priorities, to ask for forgiveness, to find peace.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Jesuit education

The August 2007 issue of OR/MS Today, the monthly magazine published by INFORMS, has an article by Dr. Salwa Ammar at Le Moyne College, a liberal arts Jesuit university in Syracuse, New York.
The article lists the following four characteristics of Jesuit education:

1. It is eminently practical, focused on providing students with the knowledge and skills to excel in whatever field they choose.

2. It is not merely practical, but concerns itself also with questions of values, with educating men and women to be good citizens and good leaders, concerned with the common good, and able to use their education for the service of faith and promotion of justice.

3. It celebrates the full range of human intellectual power and achievement, confidently affirming reason, not as opposed to faith, but as its necessary complement.

4. It places all that it does firmly within a Christian understanding of the human person as a creature of God whose ultimate destiny is beyond the human.


Ammar goes to describe how an operations research education does (or should) have these same characteristics.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Amber Rose


My mom and dad have a new granddaughter: Amber Rose Matches was born on Monday, August 20, 2007, in Tampa, Florida. Natalie and Terry Matches are the new parents! Both mother and daughter are doing well.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Francis Collins

In The Life of Meaning, the chapter by Francis Collins is entitled "Discovering Things Nobody Knew Before But God." Collins directed the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. Collins also wrote The Language of God, in which he described how he came to believe in God. See also the review by Stephen M. Barr in the December, 2006, issue of First Things.

In this chapter he says,
I think there's a common assumption that you cannot be both a rigorous, show-me-the-data scientist and a person who believes in a personal God. I would like to say that from my perspective that assumption is incorrect, that, in fact, these two areas are entirely compatible and not only can exist within the same person, but can exist in a very synthetic way, and not in a compartmentalized way.


Collins goes on to discuss evolution, which he accepts, and intelligent design, which he believes is a misguided perspective. He discourages dualism and worries about the trends towards increasing secularism on side and an unscientific fundamentalism on the other. He adds,

We need science if we are going to survive in a complicated world ... and we need faith to keep ourselves in perspective.


Collins has found an admirable position, one that doesn't pit science versus religion (or Darwin vs. God). He accepts the limitations of science and realizes that something else is needed to get at the truth. It is unfortunate that so many scientists do not (cf. The Ends of Science by Eric Cohen in the November 2006 issue of First Things.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Death and Meaning


The first chapter in The Life of Meaning, edited by Bob Abernethy and William Bole, is entitled "Limning the Rites of Death." It is by Thomas Lynch, a funeral director from Michigan. Lynch writes:


Funerals operate the same way that poems do. They operate by metaphor and icon and liturgy and symbol.


Lynch claims that we need symbols to say something about what is "unspeakable": the pain, sorry, grief, and faith that accompany someone's death. And we need the dead person to be present in order to focus the funeral and give it meaning and reason; it is part of the "this is why it hurts, that's what's happened."


Lynch's thoughts reminded me of Death & Politics,
an article by Joseph Bottum in the June/July 2007 issue of First Things:


Death—the death not of ourselves but of others—becomes the key for understanding human association when we grasp three propositions about death and politics:
(1) The losses human beings suffer are the deepest reason for culture,
(2) The fundamental pattern for any community is a congregation at a funeral,
(3) A healthy society requires a lively sense of the reality and continuing presence of the dead.


He goes on to say that "The deepest roots of a civilization are in its funerals and memorials." and "The significance of life derives from the presence of the future, while the richness of life derives from the presence of the past."



This last statement reminds me of the importance of two solemnities in the church calendar: All Saints (November 1) and All Souls (November 2). Our parish displayed during the entire month of November photographs of our loved ones who have gone before us. It felt right to honor our dead in this way, and both Lynch and Bottum have described some of the reasons it was right.



Postscript (Sunday, August 19, 2007): Today's Washington Post Magazine column by Jeanne Marie Laskas is about introducing children to death by going to the funeral of a friend of a friend. It ends: "The person is gone, but the symbol is here, gently welcoming a little girl into the real world."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

More Theory of Science

Chapter 4 of Knowles' book covers some other perspectives on science. Paul Feyerabend highlighted the role of persuasion in the progress of science. Larry Laudan claims that science makes progress by learning which methods yield which facts in order to achieve which aims. In the sociology of scientific knowledge, the historical and social settings in which scientists live are important as well.

Reading all of these different, contradictory philosophies of science was making my head swim, so I was pleased to see On Canons, a post on the First Things: On the Square blog by Edward T. Oakes. Oakes asks the following question:

The sheer fact that the canonical philosophers all disagree so radically with one another does lead to a further question: Since they can’t all be right, how do we determine who, if any, is right?


Oakes presents four options: (1) Skepticism: we can't get at the ultimate truth. (2) Pick and choose things from different philosophers. (3) View previous philosophies as building up an increasingly accurate description of reality. (4) Pick Saint Thomas Aquinas as the one who "more or less got everything right."

Oakes cites Etienne Gilson, who claimed that Aquinas got it right because of Christian revelation. He then offers the following:

That Thomas proved so successful in applying this method, using revelation to point out errors in the reasoning of past philosophers while keeping what was true in them, can be seen in the judgment of non-Thomist experts in ancient philosophy. The famous Aristotle scholar A.E. Taylor, for example, says that “the so-called Aristotelianism of Thomas is much more thoroughly thought out and coherent than what I may call the Aristotelianism of Aristotle. . . . By comparison with the Thomist synthesis of Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine, how comparatively incoherent and loose is Kant’s synthesis of Hume and Leibniz.”


Oakes offers plenty more about Aquinas and the challenge of defending his philosophy in an age where many believe that philosophy is not knowledge.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Theory of Science

I have been reading Theory of Science: A Short Introduction, by Jonathan Knowles (Tapir Akademisk Forlag, 2006). I found it on the new books shelf of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Library. It has been very interesting so far.

The first chapter discusses Einstein's theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, and logical positivism. Logical positivism was an important step in the philosophy of science, though few accept it completely today. Its most controversial claim was that science = rational belief. If something is not science, it is not rational. (Of course, this philosophical position is completely opposed to the rationality of religious belief or the possibility that we might discover truths in some other way.) Knowles discusses the problems of logical positivism, including its claim that meaningful must be "verifiable," a fuzzy term with multiple interpretations, including those that allow religious and metaphysical statements to be meaningful and those that would make certain universal statements meaningless. Finally, logical positivism does not take into account that observations are affected by previous knowledge and experience.

The second chapter discusses Karl Popper. Popper presented a philosophy of science that is very to the common understanding of the scientific method. Popper argued that science (1) recognizes a theoretical problem, (2) proposes a solution (the hypothesis), (3) tests the hypothesis, and (4) rejects the hypothesis if the evidence contradicts it. Else, we retain the hypothesis, though we can never prove that it is true. Knowles describes an important objection to Popper's philosophy: the complexity of real tests: if we get evidence that contradicts the hypothesis, then perhaps we made some other assumption that is false.

Later in the chapter, Knowles describes the "hypothetico-deductive method" (HDM), which adds induction to Popper's approach. In the HDM, negative evidence doesn't cause us to reject a hypothesis, but it is weakened. Positive evidence strengthens it.

Chapter 3 discusses Thomas Kuhn's history of science as the rise and fall of paradigms. Science is not a smooth accumulation of better theories; it is punctuated by scientific revolutions that replace one paradigm with another. In Chapter 4, the book takes up Imre Lakatos' alternative explanation of science as the progression of research programs. Knowles carefully describes the differences between these and then moves on to other developments in the philosophy of science.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Little Towns on the Prairie


During our trip to the Midwest, we visited both Walnut Grove, Minnesota and De Smet, South Dakota, two of the towns where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived as a child. Both are settings for her books.

Both towns are proud of their literary significance. De Smet, where Laura lived for a longer period and where her parents permanently settled, takes things very seriously. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society owns two of the houses where the Ingalls lived and has many objects that the family owned (though apparently even more are in Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura and Almanzo Wilder settled). They emphasize preserving the homes and objects.

The Ingalls Homestead, outside of De Smet, owns the same 160 acres that Charles Ingalls homesteaded. They cater to smaller kids a bit more, with lots of hands-on activities. The buildings (except for a school moved there from a nearby town) are replicas, but the homestead is being restored to approach the way it would have looked when the Ingalls were there: mostly prairie, with some crops.

The museum in Walnut Grove has a few old buildings, including the railroad depot (moved away from the railroad tracks). It has interesting exhibits and a few of Laura's things, including a nice red-and-white quilt. The museum also talks about the pop culture impact of the books, especially the TV show and related items. Outside of town is Plum Creek, where the Ingalls first settled. The prairie in this spot is also being restored, as you can see in the above photo.

Einstein

This week, back from our trip to Minnesota and South Dakota, I started listening to Einstein: his life and universe, by Walter Isaacson, which came out this year.
I got through only three of the 18 cassettes: the fourth was broken, so I'm waiting on another copy to arrive.

Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, which is a coincidence: we visited New Ulm, Minnesota, during our trip; the town has a large German population and a spectacular monument to the German warrior Hermann. The New Ulm monument, I just found out on Wikipedia, is similar to the Hermannsdenkmal in the Teutoburg Forest in Germany.

The part I heard covered Einstein's youth and his time at the Zurich polytechnic, including his relationship with Mileva Marić, the woman he would marry after finally getting a job at the Swiss patent office.

Einstein had a hard time getting a job after he graduated - he was fourth in his class of five, and he did not get along well with the faculty, none of whom would hire him for a post-graduate position or write a recommendation letter.

The book quotes some of the letters between Einstein and Mileva Marić. I found it fascinating that Einstein expressed emotions similar to those of many young people in love. Such insights are one of the book's strong points.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Scheduling Dell

The recent issue of Interfaces has an interesting article about production scheduling at one of Dell's computer assembly plants. The article, which focuses on kitting (collecting the parts needed for each customer order), not only presents the mathematical formulation of the problem but also discusses the production scheduling process. I found it interesting that changing the objective function was a difficult culture change for the Dell employees. They were used to balancing the load, making sure that different kitting lines had approximately equal workloads. The new management objective was to reduce the number of setups, which was set to increase dramatically due to other changes in their operations. So showing the employees how the new algorithms would not impact load balancing was key to getting them to accept the new procedures.

If I ever get around to a second edition of the Handbook of Production Scheduling, this would be a good story to include.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Home Again

After the frustration of Saturday afternoon, Sunday brought better weather and some good luck.

The standby list for the 10:30 flight was long, but everyone on the list made it. I got a bulkhead seat (in the middle) and enjoyed having the extra leg room. The flight was trouble-free, and I chatted with the young soldier who had the window seat. He was headed home for two weeks of leave, and he was planning to surprise his family, who lives on Kent Island, Maryland. We talked about Iraq, where he's spent seven months, which put things into perspective. No matter how long and tiring my trip was, there are many others with longer ones to places that were much less pleasant.

We had a nice view of the Chesapeake Bay, including Kent Island and Annapolis, as we approached BWI, and he was thrilled to see it from that perspective for the first time. We got into the gate a bit early, and I quickly walked up the C concourse to find Laury and Colleen waiting for me!

We decided that I would get some lunch while we waited for the bags to arrive. Back in baggage claim, we watched and searched - Delta had hundreds of bags down there, and, just as I was waiting to file a claim for the garment bag, it appeared on the belt! Colleen and I chased it down, and then we were headed home, and my odyssey was over.

Sunday Morning in Atlanta

[Written Sunday, July 1, 2007.]

It is amazing how busy an airport is early on a Sunday morning. The hotel breakfast room was quiet, and there was little traffic, but the lines for check-in and for security were very long (though moving quickly). Of course, I don't have any bag to check (it should be in Baltimore by now), and a nice lady helped me get onto the standby list for the next flight to Baltimore.

So now I wait - more waiting! - but I had a good rest and am back on relatively familiar ground.

Saturday Night in Atlanta

[Written Saturday, June 30, 2007.]

The Atlanta airport this evening is busy and noisy and frustrating. I was very glad to be on the ground, but there was little other good news. Our plane had to wait on the tarmac to get to a gate. Then there was congestion in the baggage unloading area, so it took awhile for our bags to appear, at which point I was sure that I was going to miss my flight. Then a long line that moved quickly through customs, and the line for security (don't know why we're going through security - we did so in Athens - but I suppose not all arriving international passengers have been through appropriate security). Then it was a dash to gate E3 to make sure I could get on the Baltimore flight, which had been moved next door to E5, which was still boarding a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth. Our flight was at 8:05; at 8:20 they moved us from E5 to E18.

Our departure time kept slipping, and then, just as they said that they were beginning to board, I heard some thunder. A look out the window confirmed that a thunderstorm had arrived. Soon they announced that the ramp was closed (I had a similar long delay at Tampa a couple years ago). At this point I surrendered and called Delta to get a flight for Sunday afternoon. Between the lady on the phone and the gate agent, they put me on a flight for 2:30 Sunday, and I went in search of a hotel room. I stopped at the airport information counter in the main terminal. The nice guys there were still at work (it was now just after 10 PM), and they pointed me to the hotel courtesy phones and the hotel shuttles. I called the good old Hampton Inn, got a reservation, and went out to the shuttles in the pouring rain. The Hampton shuttle was just pulling out, but I waved him down, and we got to the hotel safely.

Saturday Morning in Athens

[Written Saturday June 30, 2007.]



The weather in Athens was still warm but the heat wave was over. Saturday morning was sunny with a bit of a breeze. I went to see Lycabettis Hill, which is near the hotel. I was considering the cable car (funicular), but I was there at 8:30-ish and that didn't open until 9. So I walked down the block and found the path that heads up the hill, which is mostly covered in small pine trees, cactus, and other shrubs. Halfway up the hill I came to an abandoned cafe and some overlooks with tremendous views of Athens, including the Parthenon - I was glad that I had deleted some photos on the camera to make room for more. Athens usually has bad smog, but there was none to obscure the view, fortunately.


Then it was back downhill to the hotel, where I checked out and took a cab to the airport. The cab driver took the secondary roads instead of the expressway, so I got to see some of development that are converting olive groves into suburbs and retailers. It looked similar to the stuff one would see on the outskirts of any city, though there were no shopping centers, just individual retailers alongside the road. Delta had two long check-in lines, one for each of its flights (mine to Atlanta, the other to JFK). Ours was long enough for me to start a time study to predict my completion time. They served, on average, one person a minute, and my total wait was 60 minutes long.

We departed on time, but the flight was very long - over 11 hours, and we had three movies: The Astronaut Farmer (good), Wild Hogs (didn't watch it), and Bridge to Terebithia (very good). I didn't sleep at all; when not watching a movie or eating, I listened to the in-flight audio (especially the country and 80's pop channels - the latter played Africa by Toto and American Girl by Tom Petty) or my book on CD (The Odyssey). I won't finish either of the Homeric epics - reading those needs an environment with fewer distractions, and I still have Dante at home to read.

Starting for Home

[Written on Friday June 29, 2007.]

Here is a photo of Minis and his students, taken in the lab just after my presentation:




The Chios airport is very small (no taxiway, one runway, one baggage claim belt, two gates, three check-in stations) but is, for better or worse, full of the same processes as any other airport: ticketing, check-in, bag check, security, baggage claim, and waiting. My Olympic Airlines flight is delayed because the incoming plane from Athens was not on time. I wonder if it is the same plane going back and forth all day long; as soon as it gets behind, all of its remaining flights are delayed. We're beginning to board (the gate agent is checking boarding passes) at 6:15 right now for a 5:45 flight.

It is nice to be taking the first few steps towards home; even getting in the car to leave the lab was a sign of progress towards home. I'm reminded of some song (from the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings) about the road that goes ever on, but now I'm headed home.

Got to Athens without any trouble, got my bags, and ate some dinner at the McDonald's - I had to have the McTost, which reminded me a bit of those flattened hamburgers that are sold at the Varsity. Took the Metro back to Megaro Moussikis and walked a few blocks to the hotel (the same one where I had stayed last weekend). Checked in and am going to bed.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Friday Morning in Chios

The wind has picked up this morning. After the calm early in the week, the waves breaking on the rocks and the beach seem dramatic, though they are actually very small (especially compared to the normal surf at Ocean City).

On the drive here to the lab, I noted again the wide variety of vehicles and the many unfamiliar cars. Most of the makes are familiar - Ford, Toyota, Peugeot, for instance - but there are many compact cars that were never sold in North America. Compared to Athens, there are more mid-size sedans and SUVs here. Like Athens there are lots of scooters of various sizes. Yesterday we saw two people on a small scooter slowly climbing one of the hills near Pyrgi.

I have meetings this morning and my presentation this afternoon, and then I fly to Athens. Tomorrow I fly to Atlanta and home.

Mavra Volia and Mesta

On Thursday, the temperature dropped a bit and the wind increased from the east, sending small waves onto the beach near the lab. We were busy with meetings and work in the lab. Lunch was a ham-and-cheese sandwich wrapped in plastic and some cookies from the market around the corner. The afternoon snack was a peach from the fruit stand - I tried to pay for it but the proprietor wouldn't let me.

Minis rented a car around noon. Around 6 PM Minis, Theodore, and I left in the car for southern Chios. We headed first to the town of Emboreios, a seaside town on a small protected bay that is used as a marina. Our destination was the beach at the next bay over. The beach, called Mavra Volia, has no sand; instead it is all smooth, round black rocks, from large pebbles near the water to small rocks away from the edge. It is hard on the feet but beautiful. There are a few little shelters for changing (like the structure that was at the Lake Thomas property), so Minis and I changed and went for a swim. The water was nice, with cool and warm spots and perfectly clean and clear and calm (except when some boats went by); it was wonderful for swimming. Under the water, the bottom is covered with bigger rocks of the same kind.

After rinsing in the shower and changing, we were off to Mesta via Pyrgi. Mastiha grows on this part of the island, which is not as rough as central Chios, so this drive was much straighter and flatter than the drive on Tuesday. The road we took was undergoing improvements; there were some spots where it was only a wide gravel road, but other stretches were a modern highway, and we sped along. None of the roads in the countryside here have names or numbers, so for guidance drivers depend on signs indicating the direction (left, right, or straight ahead) to the next significant city. We made a wrong turn in Pyrgi (I had the map and was navigating, so it was my fault) but the silver lining was that we saw some of the interesting old houses in Pyrgi; they are decorated with unique grey and white patterns. We got back on the main road and made it to Mesta.

Pyrgi and Mesta and the other old towns in this part of the island escaped the devastation of the Turks due to the economic importance of the mastiha. The center of Mesta, from the 14th century, is a wonderful old town, with narrow stone streets and interesting stone buildings around the central church and square. The city's location away from the water, the city walls, and the maze of streets were intended to help defend the city against pirates. Other cities built in that era had the same type of plan, but Mesta is the best preserved. We wandered around some, I bought a stack of postcards, and then we ate at a restaurant on the square. The weather was still and dry and warm but not hot, perfect for sitting outside. We started dinner with salad and greens. There was a dish with baked cheese and tomatoes covered in oil to eat with the whole wheat bread. I had a simple grilled chicken breast with french fries, and we ended dinner with a dessert of sliced peaches.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Minis Arrives

Ioannis Minis arrived at the hotel at 7:30 Wednesday morning; he had just come on a flight from Athens. He will be here with me through Friday afternoon.

With Minis here, things are picking up - more meetings with students, and many adjustments to the schedule. My presentation was moved from Wednesday morning to Friday afternoon, so it will be the last bit of work I do here. I did get out to lunch at the place down the road from the lab; this time I had a chicken and rice dish. George, the student who took me, insisted that it was "rooster," not "chicken" (and not turkey), but it looked like chicken to me - I never thought male chicken tasted different. In any case, the dish was a perfectly done leg quarter over rice with a tomato and mushroom sauce. Dessert was fresh fruit again; this time melon and cherries.

Back in Chios, for dinner Minis and I walked down the main road to a German-style place that offers beers from around the world; I chose a Pilsner Urquell on draft (this Czech beer is a favorite, and back home it is uncommon and only in bottles); Minis had a couple of bottles of Grolsch, a Dutch beer. Dinner was bread and salad (one a Greek salad, the other with greens) and a platter of different grilled meat.

Today there are more meetings, but I plan to visit the little beach near the lab, and Minis plans to take me to Mesta before dinner.

Anavatos and Nea Moni

The Kathimerini (a Greek newpaper with an English edition sold here with the International Herald Tribune) reported Tuesday that this month is set to be the hottest June ever recorded in Greece. Athens reached 43 C (109 F) again, and all government offices in Greece were ordered closed at midday Tuesday and Wednesday to reduce energy consumption.

While this didn't directly apply to the lab, we behaved accordingly. After another meeting Tuesday morning, we set out to see Nea Moni, a 1000-year-old monastery in the center of the island, up in the Chios mountains. The road there was full of extraordinary views and hairpin turns. The mountains are grey and rocky, mostly covered in pine trees, though some areas not as high have olive trees.

We found out that Nea Moni was not open until 4 PM, so we detoured to Anavatos, an old abandoned village with stone houses on the top of a mountain. In 1822, when the Turks invaded Chios, they killed thousands and enslaved many more, and almost everyone else fled the island (for more, see the article; see also the painting by Delacroix). To avoid capture, the residents of Anavatos jumped to their deaths from the cliff on which the town is built. The place is semi-ruined, though under restoration.

It was time for lunch so we drove all the way down to Lethi beach on the west coast of Chios. The beach is sandy and in a small cove; the water was as calm as a lake. We ate at Tria Adelphi (Three Brothers), one of the restaurants facing the main road and the beach. Along with the cheese and bread and other appetizers, I had fresh sardines, and dessert was watermelon!

Back into the mountains to Nea Moni, which was also devastated in 1822. Here, the invaders set the buildings on fire and massacred the resident monks and many others who had taken shelter there. Its Chapel of the Holy Cross contains a case displaying the skulls and some bones of some of the monks. The main church is famous for its Byzantine architecture and mosaics, but it was closed for renovation. Their icons were relocated to another chapel, which we visited. Apparently just a couple of people live there; I also saw a chicken in a small yard behind the chapel, and two peacocks were in a large cage under some trees. As we were getting ready to leave, an elderly lady dressed in black appeared with some fruit rinds for the birds, and she and the students talked for awhile. She has lived there for 50 years.

Nea Moni is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a distinction shared by sites such as Stonehenge, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon - and the city of Durham, England, according to a post by Mike Warner, who has seen enough such sites to call them "ubiquitous"! :-)

On the way back I saw little structures occasionally next to the road. Each was about 4 feet high. The top part looked like a little church with a cross on top and a front window through which I could glimpse a candle or an icon. The students explained that each one was a marker to someone killed at that location. That is, they are like the roadside markers that we have at home, though ours are handmade crosses or temporary displays of flowers; here they are professionally made permanent monuments.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More about Mastiha

According to Fodors and the Lonely Planet guide, the name Chios is based on the Phoenician word for mastiha (or mastic or mastixa), which is the resin of a the lentisk bush (Pistacia lentisca) that grows on the southern part of Chios. (I wonder, from the Latin name, if it is related to pistachios?) Some folks call it "The Tear of the Shrub." Mastiha has been grown here for a long time and was used in many ways until petroleum products became available. Now it is used in cosmetics and chewing gum and food. Some Greeks, both ancient and modern, claim that it is health food that is good for digestive disorders, and many love the chewing gum that is made from it (I haven't tried that yet).
For even more about mastiha, see its Wikipedia entry.

There was a MastihaShop store in the Athens airport that had many products but that was nothing compared to the MastihaShop on the waterfront in Chios. It had an amazing array of items, some pure mastiha (in little pellets and tablets), others with mastiha as ingredient (jam, cookies, chocolate, chewing gum), and others with no mastiha at all. I bought some mastiha cookies that look like butter cookies or shortbread. I had a couple, and they are good with a definite but not strong citrus taste.

The box I bought has Greek and English text. The cookies are made by a local baker and sold by the Chios Mastiha Growers Association, who run the MastihaShop. (I couldn't help but think of the strawberry growers' and kumquat growers' groups that we know back home.)

Hard at Work

The University of the Aegean is young and growing. They plan to have a new campus in 3 to 5 years, but for now they are using whatever they can find. The lab where Minis and his students work is in a small two-story building that is like a small shopping center, though the parking lot is much smaller. On the first floor, the lab is next door to a shop selling pet food and similar supplies and a market with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. The second floor has more offices for faculty. Next door is another two-story building that looks like a small motel: the first floor is used for classrooms, and the second floor has more offices. Just down the street is a small church and an apartment complex used by undergraduates.

The whole place is a bit north of Chios town on the main road that goes along the sea. One cannot see the sea from inside the lab because it faces the parking lot and another building, but there are good views from the second story offices. Across the road and down a bit is a small, rocky beach. Yesterday (Monday) there were some families there swimming in the cool, blue water.

The students picked me up at 9:30 and took me to the lab. We had some meetings about their projects until about 2:00. Then we went to lunch at a restaurant a short walk from the lab. The restaurant was in the front yard of a house on the main road. The tables and chairs were under a nice shelter; I would say like a carport in construction, though it was nothing like a carport and more like a garden, the whole thing painted in blue with a hedge for a side wall and flowers in pots and birds in cages singing (and a rooster in another one crowing) and decorations in a nautical theme. I had a tomato and a green pepper stuffed with rice, George had fresh sardines and green beans, Taksiarchis had octopus, and there was also bread and feta, of course, and a plate of roasted zucchini.

After lunch I used a pay phone on the road to call home, and then I went down to the beach to put my feet in the water.

Back in the lab I worked on the presentation that I will make Wednesday morning and checked email and reviewed a paper that Taksiarchis had written on cost analysis in product design.
I wanted to Google something, and Google determined that I was in Greece, so I was automatically rerouted to www.google.gr. So then I had to Google how to avoid that rerouting and found somewhere in the Google help pages a hint to set my preferences to English instructions, but the first time I had to figure out which word in Greek meant "English," which is a bit confusing, because the Greek word starts with an "A" (like Anglican) and then has "yy", which resembles the beginning of the Greek word for "Greek", which starts with an "Ell" (like Hellenic). So I've been confused a few times already. But I was successful in the end.

Around 6 PM I went for an afternoon snack and got an ice cream bar. Being early summer fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful and good, as I saw in the market, where I bought some peaches and cherries.

A bit more work, then we took a taxi back to Chios town. The students had work to do, so I down to the waterfront in Chios, did some shopping to get a newspaper and some mastiha cookies (mastiha is a Chios specialty), and went to dinner at a place that the guys had recommended on Sunday. I ordered souvlaki with bread but didn't get the gyro I really wanted. Still, it was tasty, especially with a Mythos (the main Greek beer, somewhat like Budweiser). Then it was home to have some cherries and cookies and get to bed to catch up on sleep.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Monday Morning in Chios

My hotel room has a wonderful view. The morning sun illuminates the town of Chios, which faces east, and the hills behind it. The main road runs along the half-circle of the port from near my hotel at the south end to the ferry quay at the north end. A breakwater runs north from here to enclose the port. Two piers run from the breakwater into the port, and there are numerous boats docked there, from small motorboats and sailboats to two large tugboats.

The flight from Athens to Chios was uneventful. The plane was a ATR 30 or 70, and my rolling bag, which fits in the overhead bins of a full-sized plane, was too big for the ones on this plane, so it went under the seat. I took some photos out the window of the plane as we went over Evia on the way up and again as we approached Chios.

Some students met me at the very small airport. Right after my plane taxied to the terminal, a plane from Aegean Airlines arrived, so things got very crowded in a hurry, but we had no problem getting my bag. They brought me to the hotel, and I showered and took a brief nap. They came back around 10 and we went out to dinner.

We walked down the main road to the center of Chios. There are dozens of restaurants and bars next to each other with tables and chairs and umbrellas on the side of the road. Immediately next to the water is a sidewalk, then the road (two lanes), then these tables and chairs, then another sidewalk, and then the buildings. The tables and chairs form an unbroken chain for hundreds of yards - it is quite something for it is not interrupted by souvenir shops - just places to eat and drink. We had some nice salads and I had a grilled pork chop with french fries. Then it was time to head home for some sleep. The restaurants were quiet, but some of the bars were still going strong, with loud music and partygoers drinking hard. Fortunately, my hotel, being at the extreme south end of the town, is in a quiet neighborhood.

The hotel restaurant has a nice breakfast buffet, with everything from ham and cheese to croissants and jam, along with eggs, sausage, yogurt, fresh fruit, and muesli. Some families speaking English and a large group of Greek boys from a water polo team.

It is sunny and warm already at 9 AM; according to weather.com, it is 88 F and will go up to 96, with more of the same tomorrow. One of the students will meet me soon and give me a ride to the university, so it's back to work!

All About Athens

Sunday, June 24.

Waiting at the Athens airport for my flight to Chios, which has been delayed by 45 minutes.
The waiting area here (after security) is not nearly as nice as the main part of the terminal, which has many shops (duty free shops as well as international brands like Swatch and Hermes) and restaurants (including a McDonald's) and services.
This area is more spartan and crowded, though there is a booth selling cigarettes and newspapers and another selling drinks and telephones and restrooms.
It is also warm (from the doors opening to the outside) and noisy!

Ioannis and his wife and daughter took me to dinner last night at a restaurant in downtown Athens near Syntagma and Mitropolous. We sat at a table on the sidewalk - though it was after 10, it was still very warm. We had tabouleh and greek salad for appetizers. I had smoked trout and pasta, served with olive oil. Everything was delicious.

This morning I took the metro to Omonia Square and walked to a catholic church I had found on the U.S. embassy's web site - I still working on translating the name of the place. In any case, the mass was in Polish I'm certain. The church was nothing special, a basic rectangular layout. The tabernacle was in the wall behind the alter. Also on that wall was a large icon-like picture of Jesus that reminded me of the huge painting of Jesus in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The Mass was very crowded - I arrived a little before 8:00, not knowing what time it would start, and waited until someone opened the church at 8:00. I went right in and took a seat, and people just kept arriving until Mass started at 9:00. I think there were folks standing in the back and maybe outside as well.

Went to a nearby bakery immediately afterward to buy a big cinnamon roll and some water and then headed back to Syntagma to see the Parliament (where they were getting ready for the changing of the guard) and some museums, where I did some shopping. Along the way I bought and ate a peach, which was good: ripe and juicy. Took the Metro back to the hotel and then a taxi to the airport. Ioannis had suggested taking the Metro to the airport, but in this heat (over 40 degrees Celcius - 104 Farenheit) I didn't feel up to carrying all my baggage to the Metro station (at least 0.5 km according to the map I just picked up here at the airport).

At the airport I rearranged my stuff (going from tourist to traveler), checked in, called home using the phone card I purchased this morning, and got some lunch (a fountain Sprite - no ice - and a ham & cheese pie) at the Athens airport food court. I stopped by the airport Chapel, which is full of representations of icons painted on the walls, and some actual icons as well. Definitely not non-denominational, like those at U.S. airports.

I was thinking about the Church of the Holy Apostles, which I saw Saturday at the Ancient Agora, and the church I visited this morning. The first is certainly the more interesting building (being 1000 years old) but it is now merely an interesting building - it is no longer used for church services. The second was not an interesting building, but it was alive as Church, the Body of Christ, in a way the first is not. And though I understood very few things said this morning (besides the Alleluia) I knew what was happening and could celebrate with these strangers the Eucharist that all Catholics around the world celebrate today.


Saw lots of tourists this morning around Syntagma and often walked past couples or families or young adults speaking English. Tourist-oriented stores (selling souvenirs and sponges and postcards) and restaurants were open, but the finer clothing and jewelry stores (and a store selling Greek Orthodox religious articles) were not.
Also saw lots of natives headed to the beach; the Metro will take them to a tram station, where they can board a tram that heads down the coast to various beaches. Many were wearing coverups over swimsuits; others had blankets or mats to put down. I believe that Ioannis and his family were headed there as well.

Now 5:30 and we're supposed to leave at 5:45.

Next Stop: Athens

[Editorial note: It is now Monday morning in Greece - these first posts were written over the weekend but I only now have an Internet connection. Interestingly, Blogger thinks that I'm in Italy and the instructions are in Italian.]

Saturday, June 23, 2007.

I was very glad when my long flight from Atlanta to Athens finally landed: I was quite tired of being in seat 36E. The wait to get through customs and claim my luggage (a garmet bag with clothes) was not long, and when I left the baggage claim area, my colleague Ioannis Minis was there to greet me, which was a pleasant surprise. (It is nice to have a local to meet you - When I went to Europe in graduate school and my cousin Stephen Barthle met me in Frankfurt; when Laury and I went to France in 1996 Jean-Marie Proth met us in Metz.)

It is warmer than average in Athens today and was still hot when I left around 5:00. The city is like LA: a seaside metropolis surrounded by mountains. (And it has the same kind of traffic and smog.)

Ioannis gave me a ride to my hotel, the G.R. Louis on Timleontos Vassou Street, not far from the U.S. Embassy. I got a sandwich and fries at the hotel restaurant and took a nap. Then I headed out to learn the Metro and visit the Ancient Agora. The Metro system is about the same size and complexity as the one in Atlanta. Only three lines. The stations I used were new and clean and easy to use - directions and signs are in English as well as Greek. I found the Agora after some wandering around Monasteraki and headed to the Church of the Holy Apostles, built about 1000 years ago to celebrate St. Peter's preaching to the Athenians in A.D. 51, including the famous Sermon to an Unknown God on nearby Aerophagus Hill. Views of the Acropolis from every square and open area.

On my way back to the Metro I bought a small cup of peach Italian ice cream, which I finished before entering the station. On the walk from the Metro to the hotel I stopped to buy a slice of spanakopita at a fast food place - it was nearly 7:30 PM but it still wasn't dinner - Ioannis is coming around 10:00 to take me to dinner with his family.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

Father's Day is a good day for reflecting on what it's all about, and one important aspect is teaching. We teach our kids all the time, from the ABC's to what's right and wrong. But no one knows everything.

The Washington Post yesterday had an article entitled
Father Knows Best?
. It's all about how dads, instead to asking someone, make up answers when their kid asks them something they don't know (in this case, things about airplanes and rockets). (Probably this is related to the stereotype of men who won't stop and ask for directions.)

That reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips: Calvin and his parents are in the car and drive over a small bridge with one of those truck weight limit signs next to it, and Calvin asks how they know what the weight limit should be. His dad goes into a long explanation of how they drive an empty truck over the bridge, and then add more weight and drive it over the bridge again, and keep doing that until the bridge breaks; then they re-build the bridge! Calvin's fine with that, but his mom says to his dad, "If you don't know the answer, just say so!"

More seriously though, being a good father and teacher means knowing when to look up something you don't know (and teaching your kid to do so - remember the encyclopedias we had as kids?).

Of course, the most important thing that we can teach our children is that God created everything and that He loves us as a father. And if there's something we don't know, there are places to look it up and people to ask - we can't just make it up.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Silver Dollars

Here is a math problem for you, from the 1971 edition of Polya's How to Solve It, a classic on mathematical problem-solving:

Bob has ten pockets and 44 silver dollars. He wants to put his dollars into his pockets so distributed that each pocket contains a different number of dollars. Can he do so?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lord of the Flies

I recently finished listening to Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. I had read it many years ago (probably in high school) but remembered it always as a dark and violent picture of how bad anarchy is. I was not wrong. It is a violent tragedy.

Brief plot summary and spoiler: an undefined number of British schoolboys (ages 5 to 12) survive their plane crashing into a deserted island (resembling something in the South Pacific). Ralph, initially elected the leader, tries to organize them in building shelters and keeping a fire going to attract rescue, but most of the other boys don't want to do that and eventually leave to form a tribe of hunters. The resulting violent conflict ends when they are suddenly rescued.

In thinking about Ralph's efforts to form a society, I kept thinking of how the family is the basic unit of society. The collegial, democratic model sounds wonderful, but it will work only if there is an authority to set the rules, enforce them, and punish lawbreakers. In the book that was absent - the little ones were interested only in playing and eating, and the bigger ones felt no responsibility to help Ralph, and Ralph didn't try to punish anyone. Another model would have been to setup little family-like groups, with two older boys (like big brothers) sharing the responsibilities of caring for a small number of little ones. Perhaps the big brothers would have formed an attachment to their little brothers and worked to provide for them. Having two big brothers would enable them to share that work and the community work of tending the fire and hunting. (The way two parents share the work of child-rearing and income-earning?)

Ultimately, despite Ralph's attempts to create a social order, the boys' downfall is that, in some of them, the evil part of them (which exists in all of us, thanks to original sin) overcomes friendship and cooperation and leads to selfishness and pride and fear and jealousy and hate and senseless violence.

It becomes a world without rules, without authority; a world where everyone does what they want without considering the long-term consequences; a violent tragedy.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

A Day of Queueing

On Thursday, May 31, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, and back with Kay Aaby from Montgomery County to tape interviews for an upcoming CDC satellite broadcast on Mass Antibiotic Dispensing:
Taking the Guesswork out of POD Design
. It was an honor to be invited to participate, and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about our research on clinic planning models, which include queueing models.

The first photo is me under the lights in the studio. (They have first-class studio facilities.) I worked at CDC 20 years ago as a co-op student, so it was a bit of a homecoming, but the place has changed dramatically - almost all of the old buildings are gone, and I never went near the one remaining building where I worked.

The day was, appropriately, full of queueing. Following are items from the log I kept for the day:

6:30 am: Leave home
7:03 am: Waiting in line to check in at the AirTran ticket counter (there are only five people in front of me; over at United, the queue is overflowing the waiting area lines).
7:15 am: Waiting all through security, first for the ID check, then to get a plastic bin for my shoes and coat, then to put the stuff through the X-ray, then to get the stuff when it exits.
7:25 am: Arrive at the gate and begin waiting to board.
7:30 am: Waiting at the coffee and doughnut shop. I don't get coffee, so I have to wait only once (those getting coffee have to wait again for their coffee to be prepared).
7:36 am: Waiting in a queue to have gate agent check boarding pass, then waiting in jetway to get my seat.
8:00 am: Plane departs and lands in Atlanta at 9:30.
9:38 am: Plane stops on taxiway; pilot explains that we're waiting for an open path to our gate. (Atlanta is extremely hazy - see photo, and we can smell smoke once we're outside - must be from the wildfires.)
9:50 am: Waiting for the next train to the terminal.
10:05 am: Get cab (no line) to CDC and arrive around 10:35 to wait for our contact to appear.
11:00 am: Meet our contacts, go downstairs to do interviews (I, Kay, and Leah Matteson from New York) until 2:45.
2:50 pm: Waiting upstairs at the front desk for a cab.
3:15 pm: Depart in cab. Trip to airport takes over 35 minutes due to traffic congestion, especially at a stoplight that was blinking red.
3:58 pm: Waiting at the AirTran ticket counter (because we switched to an earlier flight and needed new boarding passes).
4:07 pm: Waiting in security (again). Exit at 4:19 and take train to Concourse C, arriving at gate at 4:30 to wait for 5:46 flight.
5:12 pm: Waiting in line to order sandwich, then waiting while sandwich is prepared.
6:00 pm: Plane is waiting on taxiway in a queue of planes that want to take off.
6:15 pm: Plane takes off and arrives at BWI at 7:40.
8:02 pm: Waiting at parking garage exit (3 cars in front of me).
8:30 pm: Home!

All together, it was a 14-hour trip comprising (roughly) 3.5 hours of interviews, 5 hours of transportation, and 5.5 hours of waiting!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Engineering History

In the Summer 2007 issue of Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education, Henry Petroski writes about the fact that engineers don't get much recognition. People see the things that engineers designed but don't think about the men and women who did the designing. Very true: who designed the car you drive? the appliances you use to cook? I have no idea.

Of course, Petroski has attempted to overcome this with some of his writing about famous bridges and other engineering marvels. In this column he reiterates the need to include the history and heritage of engineering in the engineering body of knowledge (he specifically refers to a debate within the civil engineering profession). Petroski laments that young engineers don't know the names of the engineers responsible for outstanding engineering achievements and encourages engineering faculty to teach history as part of their courses.

I fully agree. I do cover history in my Production Management course because Hopp and Spearman's Factory Physics text includes a chapter on history. I also wrote some history for a chapter of the Handbook of Production Scheduling. See also my earlier post on the history of manufacturing.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers has a History Center; among the listed landmarks is the FMC Citrus Juice Extractor, invented in 1947 by the FMC Corporation of Lakeland, Florida, and now used worldwide for squeezing oranges.
You can find the story of extractor in this PDF document.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tender is the Night

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It tells the story of a psychoanalyst (Richard) in the period after World War I. He is married, and his wife Nicole was the victim of child abuse at the hands of her wealthy father and is now schizophrenic. They are rich Americans, they have two children, and they live in the south of France.

Here is a brief plot summary: The couple's life consists of travel and entertaining. He is trying to write another book; she gardens. They care about their children but leave the childcare to a governess. They care about each other, but he eventually feels trapped and has an affair. Then he starts drinking. Her illness disappears, she has an affair, and they divorce. Richard leaves the family and goes back to America.

It is a great but sad picture of how empty life can be, even for people who have money and leisure, when it has no purpose. Once Nicole is well, Richard no longer has to help her and protect her. And Nicole finds that being a wife and mother is not enough. Neither has any thought of asking God for help or has a faith on which to rely.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Gun Manufacturing

Mechanical Engineering, the ASME magazine, has an article this month on early firearm manufacturing. It focuses on the difficulties of boring (or drilling) a long straight hole for the gun barrel, a technique still called gundrilling today. Along the way, it mentions that blacksmiths at Colonial Williamsburg can perform the process extremely accurately. We visited there in Spring, 2006, but didn't visit the gunsmiths. We'll have to do that next time!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

IE vs. ME

The April, 2007, issue of Industrial Engineer, the monthly magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers, has a brief article by Kazuo Takeda in its Ask the Expert feature. The article answers a question about the major differences between industrial engineering (IE) and mechanical engineering (ME). Takeda's answer hits all of the stereotypes of both fields: "the main difference has to do with math versus presentation and communication skills." ME is presented as a math-oriented field ("MEs take math very seriously"), and IE is the more holistic field that requires soft skills ("IEs must be able to understand a problem, identify a process, quantify the options, and present a recommendation.") Moreover, ME is a poor career choice (their focus on a specific area "can limit their careers") while "IEs' are often called into project leadership, supervisory positions, management, and executive roles."

This is really discouraging, and it insults both fields. First by implying that MEs are not well-rounded, which doesn't describe our graduates; second, by implying the IEs aren't as mathematically sophisticated as MEs, which is simply untrue. As one who has a degree in industrial engineering and has taught mechanical engineering for 12 years, I'd like to offer my own answer.

All engineers design things. MEs design mechanical components and systems, based on their knowledge of physical phenomena and using mathematics related to continuous variable dynamic systems. IEs design manufacturing systems, for which I use Hopp and Spearman's broad definition: "an objective-oriented network of processes through which entities flow." This includes everything from factories to banks to hospitals. IEs use mathematics related to discrete event systems. Both have to listen to the customer, define requirements, generate and evaluate solutions, select the best one, verify that it will work, and present their results. The major differences are the types of problems and the type of mathematics and analysis tools used. There are few industries that don't employ both MEs and IEs. Either one can be the start of a successful career in management, if that is what one wants to do.