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Archive for December, 2011

Knitting is a binary exercise

I follow a knitting blog called Yarn Harlot by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. During this month she is writing a daily letter to “Non-Knitters who love a Knitter” with suggestions of gifts for the Loved Knitter. She is doing a fabulous job at this. Today’s suggestion was an iPad. Yes, an iPad and, yes, for a knitter. For what? You ask. For lots of things, like reading patterns (all hail to Evernote), browsing Ravelry.com, using knitting apps, etc.

To quote her exact words:

“I know that right now, some of you are thinking that knitting is the exact opposite of an ipad. That knitting is cozy and that knitters are grannies and that people who understand wool really well might not be that technologically inclined. I don’t have time to explain it really well, but let me just tell you this. Knitting is binary (knit/purl.) Knitting is technology, engineering, and construction, and your knitter has a knack for it. Your knitter is a probably a geek.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Knitting Pattern - Machine Code

If you don’t believe this, and still think that technology has nothing to do with knitting, there is a great post at the Free Geek Vancouver Volunteer blog that actually compares knitting language with assembly language (i.e. low level computer programming or machine code). And it’s true, knitting is basically executing a code. It doesn’t require tremendous amount of thinking – unless you are actually designing a garment, which would be like programming – and it is something you can do while watching TV or listening to a podcast (in case you are wondering, The Science of Better would be my podcast suggestion). Also, when the pattern just doesn’t seem right or you messed up a stitch, you go into debug mode and try to find and re-write the faulty piece of code.

You would also be surprised to know that:

  • Most of the knitters I’ve met at knit nights are in science/math related fields like engineering, architecture and chemistry.
  • On a regular knit night there are around 8 people knitting and only 1 or 2 are over 40.
  • The conversation is sometimes very similar to what you would expect of an episode of the Big Bang Theory: Dr. Who, Firefly, etc.

Just saying.

PS: My non-knitter husband did give me an iPad for my birthday which I use mostly for knitting related stuff . The problem is, I only get to use it when he remembers it was actually a gift for me.

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Since I am of that age… you know… when every friend is either getting married or having kids, when – at the sight of  you holding someone elses baby – someone is bound to say your are ‘rehearsing’ , when everyone is asking when are we expanding the family… I thought it would be appropriate to put in my 5 cents for the INFORMS Blog Challenge.

A few years ago, at the 2007 INFORMS Annual meeting in Seattle, I attended a keynote by Dr. Ralph L. Keeney centered  on using O.R. to improve a our quality of life.  Specifically, he talked  about a model that he and Professor Dinah A. Vernik had been working on called “Analysis of the Biological Clock Decision”.  This model examines when a woman should begin trying to conceive. Dr. Keeney presented a simplified spreadsheet model where users can set up most parameters related to a woman’s professional, social, and family aspects of life and integrates them into a quality-of-life curve that includes the changing relative importance of these aspects with age over a woman’s life. They also included the probabilities of conceiving when trying, as a function of a woman’s age.

Now, how cool is this?  This type of research shows us that operations research can be included in very intimate family decisions. However we must keep in mind that, like most mathematical models,  the model does not provide the one and holy answer to the question that haunts us, but instead it provides a framework to better answer the question, in this case a “formalized way to sort through conflicting pressures and considerations related to beginning a family”.

After going to this talk in Seattle I remember thinking that I would get home, find the spreadsheet in the link they provided and try to build a curve for myself. Of course back then, while I was still in grad school, the whole idea of kids hadn’t set seed in my mind yet so I never did look at the spreadsheet. It feels like it might be good idea to take a look in the next couple of years.

O.R. and my family

Since we are on the subject of family and O.R. I will share that my chosen family, meaning the one my husband and I started, only exists because of O.R. We were in fact, officially introduced by my former Operations Management professor, who happens to be a former INFORMS president. When we met I was a teaching assistant for the Optimization course and a marker for the Stochastic Modeling course and had already decided that O. R. was my thing.  My husband had already completed his MSc. in O. R., was working with my O. M. professor as a researcher and a lecturer and had already decided that he was eventually going to pursue a PhD. in O.R. which he is now soon to finish. During the summer we met I was to work on a O.R. related summer internship under my husband’s supervision. The rest of the story is very generic and not very O.R. related but from time to time I like to remember that O.R. is the reason we met.

Being in the same field means that we really get each others little work problems, like the bug on the code that took a whole day to find (ugh!). Also, the rest of our industrial engineer friends usually joke about how our household is likely to have a dynamic programing model to do the grocery shopping schedule with a policy for stock replenishment. They also joke about our kids are going to be born geeks and optimizers which would be fine with us.

If this O.R. family of two isn’t enough I will add that my brother-in-law also has a Ph.D in O.R.. He and his wife are also Industrial Engineers and so is my sister. My parents somewhat get what it is we do, explaining it wasn’t very hard since my dad used to be a traveling salesmen. You can imagine that finding an example to use was quite easy.

Learn more about the Analysis of the Biological Clock Decision:

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