An advanced school on handling big data for academic purposes (with full grants for Brazilian and foreign students): São Paulo Advanced School on e-Science

São Paulo state’s research council (FAPESP) is sponsoring an interesting school on e-science, which I would describe to the blog audience as analytics for academic purposes. It is said that they will offer full financial support for 25 Brazilian and 25 foreign students. The school will be held next October in the surroundings of my alma matter, Unicamp.

Further information can be found at: http://www.vision.ime.usp.br/~liu/escibioenergy/

4 summer activities you must do before graduating + late remarks about ICAPS 2012

I recently attended to the 2012 International Conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling (ICAPS), which was held at a car distance from São Paulo (what a rare opportunity!). It was the first time that I saw something like Festivus, which featured funny debates about the relevance of the research developed by the P&S community and even a bossa nova song about three blocks that wanted to be moved. Beyond the fun and cheap transportation cost, the most remarking experiences I had there were the satellite event to gather and mentor graduate students – ICAPS Doctoral Consortium – as well as observing the differences between planners and schedulers – the former of which somewhat belonging to the OR community.

ICAPS Doctoral Consortium (DC)

DC consisted of four talks directed to PhD students and a poster presentation, during which at least two mentors were assigned to talk with each student to discuss his/her research topic.

Alan Fern managed to invite young and mid-career researchers that followed varied directions after earning their PhD and were willing to tell their stories to us.

Andrew Coles presented a talk entitle “Now what?” describing his career and how much time does it take to achieve certain positions in the academia.

Silvia Richter’s talk was mostly focused on issues such as finding motivation and realizing that it takes a lot of time to have a good idea. She also provided good figures regarding how many papers you should publish (3-4 is nice) and how much effort should you put on writing your thesis (not as much as you suppose, since only 5 people will probably read it entirely), and suggested an interesting website: 3monththesis.com.

Minh Do showed some interesting graphs to compare salaries, freedom, possibilities for changing career afterwards etc for positions like working in the industry, researching in the industry, researching in the academia and striving to be a professor with tenure. On top of that, he listed four activities that any CS undergrad student should experience to know what to do with his/her life afterwards (and that I wish I was told years ago):

  • Do a research internship in academia
  • Do an internship at the headquarters of a company
  • Work in a local startup with a good tech team
  • Work in an open source project

Scott Sanner finished the session with good tips for social networking and external presence. In the former case, he stressed the importance of talking to other researchers and getting to know more about their work (and not bragging about yours) and of giving memorable talks, or at least striving to do that. In the latter case, he talked about building a professional website and he showed his first website as a funny example of what you should not do.

I presented a poster about adaptive search methods for Constraint-Based Scheduling (CBS). The first mentor who showed up was Amanda Coles (wife of Andrew Coles, the first speaker above). We had a long and interesting talk, that let me realize how much of the theoretical background of adaptive search methods for combinatorial optimization is also valuable for planning. The second mentor was Stephen Smith, who was the advisor of a number of works related to my topic of interest. I was glad that both mentors enjoyed my research plan and gave me good advices to succeed with it.

Planning vs. Scheduling (and OR)

I have already mentioned in a former post the divide between planners and schedulers: the summer school consisted of three courses about planning and one about scheduling, the latter being easier to me than the others. While some recognize that planning methods can theoretically be used to solve scheduling problems, planners strive to be as generalist as possible when approaching a problem. Schedulers, however, prefer the opposite path and delve themselves into the structure of each problem to take the most of it. In practice, their application domains barely touch each other. Nevertheless, there are some researchers that, as we say in Brazil, are on the top of the wall that divides those areas. Even though I was feeling an outsider at some moments, there were a number of talks related to OR and a few others discussing the limits of application of each type of technique. Thus, tying together planners and schedulers seems to be a good long-term strategy to both areas.

First impressions about ICAPS – or “How much I do not know”

ICAPS 2012 is being held nearby São Paulo. The Planning and Scheduling Summer School (well, it is winter here in the Southern hemisphere right now) was really interesting, but I might say that there is much that I need to learn about planning. Up to now, I was just an operations research practitioner with a lot of interest in scheduling problems. That changed somewhat with Roman Barták’s class about solving planning problems with CP (which is a technique I enjoy a lot). Besides, planning represents a quite different way of observing the reality and solve its problems. I will try to play a little with its methods someday.

To conclude with these first impressions, the Doctoral Consortium held this morning was a valuable source of advice from young post-docs and professors. I wish I heard some of those when I was still an undergrad student. Nevertheless, many of them are still valid to plan my career.

It is still time to share your work at ICAPS’12 workshops, to be held nearby São Paulo!

The upcoming edition of the International Conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling (ICAPS) will be held next June in Atibaia, São Paulo. The deadlines of some workshops has been recently extended, thus allowing more people to put together on a paper what they have been doing and have not published so far. Even if you are not thinking about submitting anything, attending to such a conference can be a double score for the opportunity of visiting an unusual place in Brazil (i.e., somewhere but Rio de Janeiro and the Northeast beaches).

Maybe I am not the right person to praise about Atibaia because I’ve never been there despite invitations from friends and living less than 50 miles away. However, it seems an interesting place for activities such as paragliding due to a big rock they have there. Besides, you will be near Brazil’s largest and most cosmopolitan city (well, that is the humble opinion of many “paulistas”, but might not be shared by our neighbors from Rio). To name but a few things worth tasting or seeing here:

Optimizing Public Policies for Urban Planning

Another possible title would be “Marrying an urban planner up to her research problems”.

It all happened when I started hearing my fiancée explaining the problems of Brazilian housing policy and ended up with an interesting model for sustainable housing subsidy that she presented at the Latin American Real Estate Society meeting of 2009.

The problem: Housing policy in Brazil 

The main housing subsidy for low-income families in Brazil is based on a federal program roughly called “My House, My Life”, in which public subsidy consists of an amount of money for each constructed housing unit that varies solely according to the city.

In a place like São Paulo, the unavoidable consequence of such policy is to further sprawl low-income families towards suburban areas.
Most of them already spend much more than two hours per day to go to work.
Moreover, great distances prevent them from going to work on foot or bicycle, what raises public transportation demand and decreases their purchasing power.

15183601

São Paulo in 2009: Job offer vs. low-income settlement (source: SEMPLA).

What we did: A model for variable subsidy

We started looking for the main problems of distant placement of such families:

  • Bad life quality due to the time wasted for displacing. 
  • More pollution due to the large displacements. 
  • Public expenditures to support the public transportation system.

    Instead of creating a complex multi-criteria model to tackle that, we just considered that people must be placed at most one hour apart from 50% of the jobs in the city (seems fair, right?) and considered the criteria in which anything is actually done: money!

    After all, how much does it cost to the government if families are so far from their jobs?

    • If the place is too far, one must account the per-family cost on bringing adequate public transportation infrastructure up to there. 
    • Depending on the modal of transportation, there must be public subsidies and also the carbon footprint cost, which were accounted for two people per family to work for one generation (25 years).

      Thus, if you have a 20K subsidy to place a house or apartment anywhere in the city, it would be fair to raise that in places where nothing else must be done. For instance, we realized that extending a subway line costs about 20K per family, that is, government actually spends the double to bring adequate infrastructure, if not more.

      15795412

      São Paulo’s downtown: A very good infrastructure and many abandoned buildings.

      What’s next?

      To what concern the O.R. community, it is not a challenging problem in terms of algorithms but there is a lot of room to improve modeling.
      Unfortunately, we did not apply our model completely due to the lack of data, but we hope to do that someday.
      However, it is already possible to devise the possibilities of reducing public expenditures, and forthcoming approaches would provide integrated decision models for housing subsidy and infrastructure investments.

      Talking about multidisciplinary: O.R. at the Public Sector

      A multidisciplinary approach might start at your own home, and it may point out interesting challenges that academia might not have been devised so far.
      In Brazil, where public sector decisions are all but technical, there are big opportunities yet to be explored.

      About the paper

      We were glad to have had support from Prof. J.C.S. Gonçalves, which previously was Sabrina’s advisor at FAU-USP and also coauthored this paper.

      S. Harris, T. Serra, J.C.S. Gonçalves: Critical Analysis of Brazilian Housing Policy and Proposal of Subsidy Calculation Model Based on Transportation Sustainability Criteria.
      In: Proceedings of LARES Conference 2009, São Paulo, Brazil.